Russia-Ukraine (March 27): German Chancellor Clarifies Biden’s Comment About Regime Change in Russia

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, March 27. Click here for updates from March 26.

German Chancellor Clarifies Biden’s Comment About Regime Change in Russia

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says that neither NATO nor President Joe Biden aim to bring about regime change in Russia.

Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a speech on Saturday that “this man cannot remain in power.” The White House and other U.S. officials rushed to clarify that Biden wasn’t actually calling for Putin to be toppled.

Asked during an appearance Sunday on ARD television whether Putin’s removal is in fact the real aim, Scholz replied: “This is not the aim of NATO, and also not that of the American president.”

Scholz added: “We both agree completely that regime change is not an object and aim of policy that we pursue together.”

Asked whether Biden made a dangerous mistake with his comment, Scholz replied: “No.” He said that “he said what he said” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also had clarified that he wasn’t talking about regime change.

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Ukraine Ready to Discuss Adopting Neutral Status in Russia Peace Deal: Zelenskyy

Ukraine is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia but such a pact would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in remarks aired on Sunday.

Zelenskyy was speaking to Russian journalists in a 90-minute video call, an interview that Moscow authorities had pre-emptively warned Russian media to refrain from reporting. Zelenskyy spoke in Russian throughout, as he has done in previous speeches when targeting a Russian audience.

Zelenskyy said Russia’s invasion had caused the destruction of Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine, and said the damage was worse than the Russian wars in Chechnya.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelenskyy said.

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UK Distances Itself From Biden’s Apparent Call for Regime Change in Russia

The UK government has distanced itself from U.S. President Joe Biden appearing to call for regime change in Russia.

During a speech in Warsaw, Poland, on March 26, Biden suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be removed from office.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he said.

Asked on March 27 if the UK government agreed with Biden on potential regime change in Russia, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that it is “up to the Russian people.”

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UK Says Sanctions Could Be Lifted If Russia Withdraws Troops From Ukraine

Western sanctions against Russia can be lifted if Russia withdraws its invading forces from Ukraine and promises not to commit any “further aggression,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Truss said the sanctions can only be lifted with “a full ceasefire and withdrawal” and “commitments that there will be no further aggression.”

“Snapback sanctions” will be quickly re-imposed if Russia commits “further aggression” in future, she said.

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No Leaks of Radioactive Material Detected in Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia

Ukraine’s energy minister says no leaks of radioactive material have been detected since Russian tanks fired at nuclear power plants in Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia but that nightmares about a nuclear disaster keep him awake at night.

In an interview with one of Corriere della Sera’s correspondents in Kyiv, German Galushchenko was quoted as saying that his country’s nuclear plants “are a constant worry.”

“I haven’t slept for an entire night with the nightmare of nuclear disaster,” said Galushchenko, who is also an official of the state company that manages the nation’s four nuclear power plants.

Referring to the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia facilities, Galushchenko said that “luckily both facilities are still in the hands of our technicians, but Russian armored carriers fired against the facilities.” In the interview published Sunday, he called those actions “criminal” and “totally irresponsible.”

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Zelenskyy Signed a Law Restricting the Reporting on Troop and Military Equipment Movement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a law restricting the reporting on troop and military equipment movement unless such information has been announced or approved by the military general staff.

The state news agency Ukrinform reported Sunday that the law calls for potential prison terms of three to eight years for violations.

The law bans “unauthorized dissemination of information about the direction, movement of international military assistance to Ukraine, the movement, movement or deployment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations of Ukraine, committed in a state of martial law or a state of emergency,” Ukrinform said.

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Erdogan Urges Cease-Fire in Call With Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the need for a cease-fire in Ukraine in a telephone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan’s office said.

Erdogan also called for an improvement to the humanitarian situation in the region, according to the statement.

The two leaders agreed the next meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials should be held in Istanbul, the statement added, without giving a time frame.

Meanwhile, a member of the Ukrainian delegation that’s in talks with Russia said Sunday that the two sides have decided to meet in person beginning on Monday. However, Russia’s chief negotiator said the in-person talks would begin on Tuesday. Neither said where the talks would be held.

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Ukraine: In-Person Talks With Russia to Resume

A member of the Ukrainian delegation in talks with Russia on ending the month-long war says the two sides have decided to meet in person in Turkey beginning on Monday.

Davyd Arakhamia, the leader in parliament of the faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, said on Facebook that the in-person talks were agreed upon in a video consultation. He did not give further details.

However, Russia’s chief negotiator said the in-person talks would begin on Tuesday, rather than Monday.

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Russia Warns Media: Don’t Report Interview With Ukrainian President

Russia’s communications watchdog told Russian media on Sunday to refrain from reporting an interview done with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and said it had started a probe into the outlets which had interviewed the Ukrainian leader.

In a short statement distributed by the watchdog on social media and posted on its website, it said a host of Russian outlets had done an interview with Zelenskyy.

“Roskomnadzor warns the Russian media about the necessity of refraining from publishing this interview,” it said. It did not give a reason for its warning.

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Russia Restricts Access to Germany’s Bild Website

Russia said on Sunday said it had restricted access to the website of Germany’s Bild at the request of prosecutors.

Russia’s communications watchdog said on its website that it was blocking access to the website by people inside Russia after a March 26 request from prosecutors.

It was not immediately clear why prosecutors asked for the restriction. The prosecutor general’s office could not be reached for comment outside normal business hours.

“The blocking of Bild.de by the Russian censors confirms us in our journalistic work for democracy, freedom and human rights,” Bild editor-in-chief Johannes Boie said on its website.

“And it encourages us to give Russian citizens even more opportunities to inform themselves with news and facts beyond Russian government propaganda.”

A week after Feb. 24 invasion, Russia passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.

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Macron Distances Himself From Biden’s Comment About Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron has distanced himself from U.S. President Joe Biden’s comment that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” He is urging efforts to deescalate tensions.

Macron, who has spoken several times to the Russian president in so-far unsuccessful peace-making efforts, is due to speak again with Putin on Sunday or Monday.

“We should be factual and … do everything so that the situation doesn’t get out of control,” Macron said Sunday on France-3 television, when asked about Biden’s remark.

Macron said, “I wouldn’t use those terms, because I continue to speak to President Putin, because what we want to do collectively is that we want to stop the war Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without an escalation.”

He stressed that the United States remains an important ally, saying, “We share many common values, but those who live next to Russia are the Europeans.”

Macron said he will talk with Putin about a proposed humanitarian corridor for the besieged city of Mariupol, also discussed with Turkey and Greece.

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Zelenskyy: West Needs More ‘Courage’ in Helping Ukraine Against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused NATO and the West of lacking the courage to provide more support amid the conflict with Russia, making another plea for fighter planes and more military equipment.

“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism, and firmness are astonishing,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Sunday, referring to the besieged Black Sea city. “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 percent of their courage.”

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Ukraine Says Russia Wants to Split Nation, Calls for More Arms

Russia wants to split Ukraine into two, as happened with North and South Korea, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief said on Sunday.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the West to give Ukraine tanks, planes, and missiles to help fend off the Russian forces, which the Kyiv government said were increasingly targeting fuel and food depots.

A local leader in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said on Sunday the region could soon hold a referendum on joining Russia, just as happened in Crimea after Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia—a vote that much of the world refused to recognize.

“In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine,” Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, said in a statement, referring to the division of Korea after World War Two.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson also dismissed talk of any referendum in eastern Ukraine.

“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity,” Oleg Nikolenko told Reuters.
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Blinken Clarifies US Not Trying to Topple Putin

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House does not have a strategy of regime change in Russia during a visit to Jerusalem on Sunday.

The senior official was quick to stress President Joe Biden was not calling for an immediate change of government in Moscow when he said in his speech: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the remark, saying “It’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”

Blinken told media in Jerusalem “We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else for that matter.”

He added “it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”

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Russia Confirms Strike Hit Lviv Fuel Depot

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov confirmed in a statement on Sunday that Russian air-launched cruise missiles hit a fuel depot and a defense plant in Lviv, near the border with Poland, on Saturday.

Konashenkov added that another strike included sea-launched missiles, which destroyed an ammunition depot holding air defense missiles in Plesetsk just west of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

According to Konashenkov, during Saturday’s operation, 67 Ukrainian military facilities were targeted by the Russian military.

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Putin Congratulates National Guard on 6th Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Russia’s National Guard on the sixth anniversary since its creation on Sunday.

Putin specially addressed the service staff of the National Guard units involved in the “special military operation in Donbas and Ukraine.”

“I am well aware of how you act in this situation: highly courageously and professionally, skillfully and fearlessly, you resolve the most complicated tasks set before you competently and precisely while showing personal heroism,” Putin said in his video statement.

The National Guard was established by Putin in 2016 as an internal military force that reports directly to the president.

The service, which numbers over 300,000 personnel, is involved with other security forces in fighting terrorism and organized crime, guarding state facilities, controlling weapons turnover, and riot control.

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Man Detained at Site of Lviv Rocket Attacks

The governor of the Lviv region said a man was detained on suspicion of espionage at the site of one of the two rocket attacks that rattled the city on Saturday.

Maksym Kozytskyy said police found the man had recorded a rocket flying toward the target and striking it. Police also found on his telephone photos of checkpoints in the region, which Kozytskyy said had been sent to two Russian telephone numbers.

Rockets hit an oil storage facility and an unspecified industrial facility, wounding at least five people. A thick plume of smoke and towering flames could be seen on Lviv’s outskirts hours after the attacks.

Jack Phillips, Alexander Zhang, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.