The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, March 25. Click here for updates from March 24.
Zelenskyy Again Asks for Peace Talks
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has again appealed to Russia to negotiate an end to the war, but says Ukraine would not agree to give up any of its territory for the sake of peace.
In his nightly video address to the nation Friday, Zelenskyy appeared to be responding to Col. Gen Sergei Rudskoi, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, who said Russian forces would now focus on “the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”
Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014, and Russian forces have been battling to seize more of the region from Ukraine, including the besieged city of Mariupol.
Rudskoi’s statement also was a suggestion that Russia may be backing away from trying to take Kyiv and other major cities where its offensive has stalled. Zelenskyy noted that Russian forces have lost thousands of troops but still haven’t been able to take Kyiv or Kharkiv, the second-largest city.
Chernobyl Staff Have Not Been Rotated in 4 Days, No End in Sight: IAEA
Staff on duty at Chernobyl’s Russian-held radioactive waste facilities have not been rotated in four days and Ukraine cannot say when that will change because of fighting in the town where many of them live, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday.
“Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency today that there had been no rotation of technical staff at [Chernobyl] since 21 March and it did not know when it might next take place,” the IAEA said in a statement.
Staff now on duty replaced a shift that was there for more than three weeks.
Russia States More Limited Goal to ‘Liberate’ Donbas
In a scaled-back formulation of its military operation goals, Russia said on Friday, March 25, that the first phase of it was mostly complete and it would focus on completely “liberating” Ukraine’s breakaway eastern Donbas region.
The announcement appeared to indicate that Moscow may be switching to more limited objectives after running into fierce Ukrainian resistance in a month of war.
The defense ministry said Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93 percent of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region. They jointly make up the Donbas.
“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”
Western Sanctions Won’t Sway Kremlin, Says Russia’s Former President Medvedev
It is “foolish” to believe that Western sanctions against Russian businesses could have any effect on the Moscow government, Russian ex-president and deputy head of security council Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying on Friday.
The sanctions will only consolidate the Russian society and not cause popular discontent with the authorities, Medvedev told Russia’s RIA news agency in an interview.
The West has imposed an array of sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, but one month into the war, the Kremlin says it will continue the assault until it accomplishes its goals of Ukraine’s “demilitarization and denazification.”
Medvedev said opinion polls showed that three-fourths of Russians supported the Kremlin’s decision to carry out a military operation in Ukraine and even more supported President Vladimir Putin.
He lashed out at those Russians who spoke against the invasion while staying outside Russia:
“You can be dissatisfied with some of the authorities’ decisions, criticize the authorities—this is normal,” he said.
“But you cannot take a stand against the state in such a difficult situation, because this is treason.”
The West Is Trying to Cancel Russia: Putin
President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of trying to cancel Russia and the Russian people.
“Today they are trying to cancel a whole thousand-year-old country, our people. I am talking about the progressing discrimination of everything connected with Russia,” Putin said.
He compared the alleged attempts to ban Russian composers and writers with book burnings in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
“The notorious cancel culture has become a cancellation of culture,” Putin said.
He also appeared to compare Russia’s position to that of Harry Potter author, JK Rowling.
The writer had previously been publicly attacked for her views on gender identity.
Russia Says 1,351 Soldiers Died in Ukraine
The deputy head of Russia’s military general staff says that 1,351 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi also said Friday that 3,825 have been wounded.
NATO estimated on Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine.
The Russian figure did not appear to include the Moscow-backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, and it was not clear whether the toll encompassed Russian forces not part of the Defense Ministry, such as the National Guard.
Biden in Poland Salutes US Troops, Will Meet Ukrainians
President Joe Biden visited U.S. troops stationed near Poland’s border with Ukraine on Friday and was getting a first-hand look at the growing humanitarian response to the millions of Ukrainians who are fleeing to Poland to escape the conflict in Ukraine.
Biden’s first stop was with members of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, visiting a barbershop and dining facility set up for the troops, where he invited himself to sit down and share some pizza. The Americans are serving alongside Polish troops.
He arrived Friday afternoon at the airport in Rzeszow, the largest city in southeastern Poland, where some U.S. troops are based.
Russia Dismisses Talk of Gold Reserves Trapped Abroad
The Russian central bank on Friday dismissed media speculation that gold reserves have been taken out of the country and are being held abroad.
In response to the US and EU authorities hinted of possible sanctions targeting Russian gold, the Russian regulator stated on its website, “all the gold from our gold and foreign exchange reserves is in the vaults of the Bank of Russia on the territory of our country.”
US Won’t Use Chemical Weapons ‘Under Any Circumstance’: White House
The United States does not plan to use chemical weapons even if Russia uses them in Ukraine, a top U.S. official said on March 25.
“There will be a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One as it flew in Europe.
“I won’t go beyond that other than to say the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance,” Sullivan added.
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday that the United States or NATO would respond if Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed chemical weapons.
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Russia Raises Grain Export Tax
The levy on Russian wheat exports will be increased from $86.4 per ton to $87 in the period from March 30 to April 5, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday.
According to the statement, export tax on barley and corn will amount to $75.6 and $58.3 per ton, respectively.
Injured Fox News Journalist Benjamin Hall Transferred to Texas Hospital From Ukraine
Fox News journalist Benjamin Hall, who was injured in Ukraine, is recovering after several surgeries at a military medical facility in Texas, the company’s CEO confirmed on Friday.
“We’ve had an outpouring of care and concern about Benjamin Hall, so I wanted to share a brief update with everyone. Yesterday Ben was transferred from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas,” CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement.
“BAMC is a premier military medical facility and Ben is receiving excellent care while he continues to recover from his serious injuries after multiple surgeries,” she continued in her statement, which was released more than a week after Hall was injured in an attack near Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials alleged that Russian forces were responsible for the attack, which also left a Fox News cameraman and a consultant dead. Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshinova and cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski were later confirmed to have been slain in the incident.
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Erdogan Says Ukraine and Russia Appear to Be Making Progress on Four Issues Being Negotiated
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ukraine and Russia appear to be making progress on four issues being negotiated for an end of the fighting but differences remain on two other key issues.
Speaking to reporters on his return from a NATO summit late Thursday, Erdogan said Kyiv has expressed readiness to give up on its wish to join NATO, is ready to accept Russian as an official language, and can also accept “certain concessions” concerning disarmament and “collective security.”
But Erdogan said Ukraine “is not so comfortable“ regarding Russian demands on Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and the eastern Donbas region, where it has recognized separatist entities as independent. His comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other Turkish media on Friday.
NATO member Turkey has been trying to balance its relations with both Ukraine and Russia, positioning itself as a mediator between the two. It has hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers earlier this month.
Kremlin Says US Talk of Russia Using Chemical Weapons a Tactic to Divert Attention
The Kremlin said on Friday that U.S. talk of Russia possibly resorting to chemical weapons in Ukraine was a tactic to divert attention away from awkward questions for Washington.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters that the military would submit proposals to President Vladimir Putin on how Russia should strengthen its defences in response to NATO beefing up its eastern flank.
There was no official position on whether Russia would rebuild Ukrainian towns and cities such as Mariupol, Peskov added.
Ukraine Has Retaken Towns East of Kyiv, UK Says
Ukraine has retaken towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (21 miles) east of Kyiv, helped by Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, Britain’s defense ministry claimed on Friday.
EU Responds to Russian Ruble Gas Trade Decision
Brussels will not allow Moscow to override sanctions by demanding EU countries pay for Russian oil and gas in rubles, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
The comment comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced, the previous day, that payments for gas exports to ‘unfriendly’ states will be switched to the ruble.
Qatar Says Replacing Russian Gas Is Impossible
Replacing Russian natural gas on the European market is “not practically possible,” Qatari Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi said in an interview with CNN on Thursday.
Kremlin Says ‘Nothing Terrible Will Happen’ if Russia Is Expelled From G20
The Kremlin said on Friday that nothing terrible will happen if the United States and its allies succeed in expelling Russia from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies because many of the G20’s members are at economic war with Moscow anyway.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was commenting on remarks by President Joe Biden who said he favored Russia being pushed out of the G20 after it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.
“The G20 format is important, but in the current circumstances, when most of the participants are in a state of economic war with us, nothing terrible will happen,” Peskov told reporters, when responding to a question about Russia’s possible expulsion.
Peskov said the world was much more diverse than the United States and Europe and predicted that U.S. efforts to isolate Moscow, which he said had so far only been partially effective, would fail.
He said some countries were taking a more sober approach towards Russia and not burning bridges with it and that Moscow would build new policy directions in all areas.
Russia Restricts Assets of ‘Unfriendly’ States
The Russian Central Bank (Bank of Russia) on Friday imposed restrictions on the movement of funds to countries that introduced economic sanctions against Russia in connection with its military operation in Ukraine.
Lavrov: Russia Is Facing ‘Total War’ From West
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia is facing total war declared by the West.
Lavrov said at a meeting on Friday that “a real hybrid war, total war was declared on us.” He said the goal was “to destroy, break, annihilate, strangle the Russian economy, and Russia on the whole.”
During the first month of what Russia describes as a “special military operation” in Ukraine, the West imposed tough measures targeting Russia’s economy and financial system as well as President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.
Despite that, Lavrov said Russia was not isolated.
“We have many friends, allies, partners in the world, a huge number of associations in which Russia is working with countries of all continents, and we will continue to do so,” Lavrov said. He added that the vast majority of states won’t join the Western sanctions policy against Russia.
Russian Ambassador Sues Italian Daily Over Putin Article
The Russian ambassador to Italy, Sergey Razov, said on Friday he was suing Italian newspaper La Stampa over an article that had raised the possibility of killing President Vladimir Putin.
“Needless to say that this goes against the rules of journalism and morality,” Razov told reporters in front of the prosecutor’s office in Rome after he had deposited the suit.
On March 22 La Stampa published an analysis headlined “If killing the tyrant is the only option. ” The piece said if all other options failed to halt the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the only solution would be for someone to kill the president.
Speaking through a translator, Razov said his suit accused the newspaper of soliciting and condoning a crime.
La Stampa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Polish PM Says 3 EU Countries Won’t Stop Trade Relations With Russia
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki named three European countries—Germany, Austria, and Hungary—on Friday that oppose blocking trade relations with Russia, and have acted as “brakes” with regard to further sanctions in retaliation to its offensive in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Officials: 300 Dead in Airstrike on Theater in Mariupol
The government of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol claims 300 people died in a Russian airstrike on March 16 on a theater being used as a bomb shelter.
The Friday post on the city government Telegram channel cited eyewitnesses for the toll of “about 300.” It was not immediately clear whether emergency workers had finished excavating the site or how the eyewitnesses arrived at the death toll.
When the theater was struck, an enormous inscription reading “CHILDREN” was posted outside in Russian, intended to be visible from the skies above.
Soon after the airstrike, Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner, said more than 1,300 people had been sheltering in the building.
Mariupol’s City Government: Kremlin’s Main Political Party Opens a Political Office in Shopping Mall
Mariupol’s city government says the Kremlin’s main political party has opened a political office in a shopping mall on the outskirts of the besieged city.
According to the post on the city’s Telegram channel, the United Russia office is distributing promotional materials as well as mobile phone cards for an operator that functions in the nearby Russia-backed separatist regions.
Mariupol’s communication links have been all but severed since the siege began in early March.
Russian Demand for Rouble Gas Payments Would Be Breach of Contract, EU Leaders Say
President Vladimir Putin’s threat to have “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles from now on has got the not-so-friendly treatment from European Union nations.
Several EU leaders have come out saying it would be a gross violation of their contracts. From German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, they said they would not meet such demands.
The Russian threat is potent since the EU imports 90 percent of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes, and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40 percent of EU gas.
Economists say such a move seems designed to try to support the ruble, which has collapsed against other currencies since Russia invaded Ukraine and Western countries responded with sanctions against Moscow.
US and EU Strike LNG Deal as Europe Seeks to Cut Russian Gas
The United States and the European Union have announced a new partnership to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. Top officials characterized the step as the start of a years-long initiative to further isolate Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden asserted Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin uses energy to “coerce and manipulate his neighbors” and uses the profits from its sale to “drive his war machine.”
Biden said the partnership he announced jointly with a top European Union official will turn that dynamic on its head by reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy sources, as well as the continent’s demand for gas overall.
Under the plan, the U.S. and other nations will increase liquified natural gas exports to Europe by 15 billion cubic meters this year. Even larger shipments would be delivered in the future.
UK’s Johnson Says There Is Evidence Russia Trying to Get Round Sanctions Using Gold
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday there was evidence that Russia was trying to get round sanctions using its gold reserves.
“There is evidence that the Russians may be trying to get round—the Russians are obviously going to try to get round—the sanctions on their gold, and we’re taking steps to try to make sure that there’s no leakage, no sale of bullion into markets around the world,” Johnson told reporters in Brussels.
Finland to Suspend Trains to St. Petersburg
Finland’s national railway company says it will suspend services between Helsinki and the Russian city of St. Petersburg from this weekend, closing one of the last public transport routes for Russians who want to reach the European Union.
Citing the sanctions imposed on Russia, the head of passenger traffice with state-owned VR, Topi Simola, said that “people who wanted to depart from Russia have had adequate time to leave.”
Only the morning train from Helsinki to St Petersburg will be operated on Sunday while the afternoon train will be canceled. Both services from St. Petersburg will be operated. After that, trains will be suspended until further notice.
VR said customers can cancel their tickets at no cost.
Kremlin Says Abramovich Played Early Role in Ukraine Peace Talks
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich played an early role in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, but the process was now in the hands of the two sides’ negotiating teams.
Abramovich was asked by Ukraine to help mediate.
“He did take part at the initial stage,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Now the negotiations are between the two teams, the Russians and Ukrainians.”
In an attempt to force President Vladimir Putin to back down over Ukraine, the West has imposed sanctions on Russian billionaires such as Abramovich, Russian companies and Russian officials.
Russia says the response of the West shows it is both decadent and deceitful and has bluntly warned that the post-1991 experiment in looking Westwards is over.
A commodity trader, Abramovich acquired stakes in the Sibneft oil company, Rusal aluminium producer, and Aeroflot airline that were later sold.
Under Putin, Abramovich served as governor of the remote Arctic region of Chukotka in Russia’s Far East before buying Chelsea Football Club in 2003.
Abramovich has been sanctioned by Britain, the European Union, and Canada but not the United States.
Some Russian businessmen, though, say the West is naive if it thinks billionaires such as Abramovich can influence the Kremlin on questions of geopolitics.
Germany to Reduce Reliance on Russian Energy
Germany’s economy minister says his country has forged contracts with new suppliers that will allow it to significantly reduce its reliance on Russian coal, gas, and oil in the coming weeks.
Robert Habeck told reporters in Berlin on Friday that Russian oil will account for about 25 percent of Germany’s imports in the coming weeks, from currently about 35 percent.
Habeck said imports of Russian coal will be halved from about 50 percent of Germany’s total to 25 percent in the coming weeks.
He said Germany also expects to be able to become almost entirely independent of Russian gas by mid-2024. To do this the government has secured the use of three “floating” terminals capable of regasifying LNG brought in by ship and is working hard to build permanent LNG terminals for long-term imports.
Russia Says Poland Destroying Relations With Expulsions, Vows Tough Response
Russia accused Poland on Thursday of trying to destroy bilateral relations by expelling 45 of its diplomats, and said it would respond harshly.
The Russian ambassador said Poland, which said on Wednesday it was expelling the diplomats on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, had also blocked the embassy’s bank accounts.
The Russian foreign ministry said the expulsions were “a conscious step towards the final destruction of bilateral relations, the dismantling of which our Polish ‘partners’ have been systematically carrying out for a long time.”
It added: “Russia will not leave this hostile attack without a response, which will make Polish provocateurs think and will hurt them.”
Russia on Wednesday condemned what it called a reckless proposal by NATO member Poland that armed international peacekeepers should be sent into Ukraine.
Russian ambassador to Warsaw Sergey Andreev said the embassy’s bank accounts had been blocked on the basis that they could be used for money-laundering or terrorist finance.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “I can only say in general terms that we have been dealing with the freezing of funds of the Russian Federation.”
Hungary Rejects Zelenskyy’s Appeal for Weapons
Hungary’s prime minister on Friday rejected an appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to supply Ukraine with weapons and support sanctions on Russia’s energy sector.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted to social media that Zelenskyy’s requests were “against Hungary’s interests,” and that sanctions on Russian energy “would mean that the Hungarian economy would slow down and then stop within moments.”
The rejection came after Zelenskyy on Thursday addressed a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels where he specifically addressed Orban, who is widely considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU.
“Listen, Viktor, do you know what is happening in Mariupol?” Zelenskyy said. “I want to be open once and for all—you should decide for yourself, who you are for.”
Hungary, alone among EU countries bordering Ukraine, has declined to supply its neighbor with weapons and refused to allow weapons shipments to cross its border into Ukraine.
On Friday, Orban said that 85 percent of Hungary’s gas and more than 60 percent of its oil comes from Russia, and that blocking Russian energy exports would force Hungarians to “pay the price of the war.”
NATO Chief Says Use of Chemical or Nuclear Weapons “will Totally Change the Nature of the War”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says that any use of chemical or nuclear weapons “will totally change the nature of the war in Ukraine. It will be absolutely unacceptable.”
Stoltenberg spoke during a visit to the long-planned Cold Response drill in his native Norway and called Russia’s war in Ukraine “a watershed moment.”
The drill taking place in southeastern, central, and northern Norway includes around 30,000 troops from 27 countries. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden are also participating. The exercise started March 14 and ends April 1.
The first Cold Response exercise was held in 2006. It is conducted every two years.
Russia Fires Missiles at Ukraine Military Unit
Russian forces fired two missiles late Thursday at a Ukrainian military unit on the outskirts of Dnipro, the fourth-largest city in the country, regional emergency services said.
The strikes destroyed buildings and set off two fires, it said, while the number of those killed and wounded was still being established.
Dnipro is west of the regions along the Russian border that have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Zelenskyy Asks EU Leaders for Quick Membership
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked EU leaders for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany’s decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
But he lamented that these steps weren’t taken earlier, saying there was a chance Russia would have thought twice about invading.
He then appealed to the EU leaders, who had gathered Thursday in Brussels, to move quickly on Ukraine’s application to join the bloc. “Here I ask you, do not delay. Please,” Zelenskyy said by video from Kyiv. “For us this is a chance.”
He then listed the 27 member countries, noting those he said were “for us.” He appealed to Germany and particularly to Hungary not to block Ukraine’s bid.
UN Votes to Condemn Russia for Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine
The U.N. General Assembly has approved a resolution blaming Russia for a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools, and hospitals critical to their survival.
Thursday’s vote on the resolution was 140–5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including China.
The resolution deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes, and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
The vote was almost exactly the same as the March 2 resolution when the assembly demanded an immediate Russian cease-fire and withdrawal of all its forces while demanding protection for all civilians and infrastructure indispensable to their survival. That vote was 141–5 with 35 abstentions.
Zachary Stieber, Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.