The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, March 18. Click here for updates from March 17.
Ukraine ‘Temporarily’ Loses Access to Sea of Azov: Defense Ministry
Ukraine’s defense ministry said late on Friday it lost access to the Sea of Azov “temporarily” as invading Russian forces were tightening their grip around the Sea’s major port of Mariupol.
“The occupiers have partially succeeded in the Donetsk operational district, temporarily depriving Ukraine of access to the Sea of Azov,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The ministry did not specify in its statement whether Ukraine’s forces have regained access to the Sea.
Russia said on Friday its forces were “tightening the noose” around Mariupol, where an estimated 80 percent of the city’s homes had been damaged. Some 1,000 people may still be trapped in makeshift bomb shelters beneath a destroyed theater.
Mariupol, with its strategic location on the coast of the Sea of Azov, has been a target since the start of the war on Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation.”
The city lies on the route between the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea to the west, and the Donetsk region to the east, which is partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Russia claimed as early as March 1 that its forces had cut off the Ukrainian military from the Sea of Azov.
NASA Chief Bill Nelson Dismisses Concerns About US-Russian Space Cooperation
Brushing off concerns that U.S.-Russian geopolitical tensions could affect joint collaboration in space, NASA chief Bill Nelson said Friday (March 18) he was excited about the recently unveiled new moon rocket, the Artemis 1, that he hopes will usher in a new era of space exploration, including setting up a moon base and eventually sending people to Mars.
“Well, it’s true that we have our problems with President Putin on terra firma. And it’s also true that the free world has really come together like you haven’t seen in the last couple of decades, NATO with the United States in solidarity. But that’s terra firma. Once you get into space, the civilian space program, it’s as professional as it can be between the cosmonauts and the astronauts and I expect that to continue,” Nelson said.
The durability of longstanding U.S.-Russian collaboration in space is being tested by heightened antagonism between the two former Cold War adversaries over Russia’s invasion last month of Ukraine.
Top Russian Negotiator Says Moscow, Kyiv Get Closer on Ukraine’s Neutral Status
The head of the Russian delegation in talks with Ukrainian officials says the parties have come closer to an agreement on a neutral status for Ukraine.
Vladimir Medinsky, who led the Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, including this week, said Friday that the sides have narrowed their differences on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status.
“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in talks, and that is the issue where the parties have made their positions maximally close,” Medinsky said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
He added that the sides are now “half-way” on issues regarding the demilitarization of Ukraine. Medinsky noted that while Kyiv insists that Russia-backed separatist regions in Ukraine’s east must be brought back into the fold, Russia believes that people of the regions must be allowed to determine their fate themselves.
Medinsky noted that a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is possible after the negotiators finalize a draft treaty to end the hostilities and it receives a preliminary approval by the countries’ governments.
Biden, Xi Hold 2-Hour Call Amid Tension Over Ukraine War
President Joe Biden held a two-hour video call with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping on March 18, following allegations from the U.S. administration that China was considering giving military assistance to Russia for the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“President Biden detailed our efforts to prevent and then respond to the invasion [of Ukraine], including by imposing costs on Russia,” said a White House readout of the call.
“He described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” the statement continued.
“The President underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. The two leaders also agreed on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication, to manage the competition between our two countries.”
Xi refused to refer to the war in Ukraine as a “war” during the call, and referred to it instead as a “crisis,” according to Chinese news agency Xinhua, which released several talking points immediately after the end of the call.
The Chinese leader also said that the United States and China would need to work together to “shoulder our share of international responsibilities and work for world peace and tranquility,” while noting that the world was neither tranquil nor stable, Xinhua reported.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Friday press briefing that Biden did not receive any specific assurances from Xi that China would act one way or another.
Putin Praises Troops at Huge Rally in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge patriotic rally Friday at a Moscow stadium on the eighth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin, speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags at the Luzhniki Stadium, praised the Russian military for its actions in Ukraine.
“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” Putin said in a rare public appearance. “We have not had unity like this for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.
Before Putin spoke, bands played patriotic Soviet songs about national identity and speakers praised Putin as fighting “Nazism” in Ukraine.
Some people, including presenters at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with a “Z”—a symbol seen on Russian tanks and military vehicles in Ukraine and embraced by supporters of the war.
Kremlin Refrains From ‘Harsh Judgement’ on Biden
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden’s labeling of his Russian counterpart as “a war criminal,” was considered a personal insult to Vladimir Putin by the Kremlin.
“Considering the irritability of Mr. Biden, his fatigability, sometimes forgetfulness, fatigue leading to aggressive statements, we would probably not make any harsh judgments so as not to elicit even more aggression,” Peskov told reporters during his daily briefing via phone call.
Peskov added that the Ukrainian delegation isn’t demonstrating willingness to speed up negotiations with Russia on its ongoing military operation in Ukraine.
“The Russian delegation is ready to work much quicker,” Peskov told reporters.
“Unfortunately, the Ukrainian delegation doesn’t demonstrate the willingness to speed up negotiations with Russia.”
130 People Rescued From Ruins of a Theater: Ukrainian Official
Officials say 130 people have been rescued from the ruins of a theater that served as a shelter when it was blasted by a Russian airstrike Wednesday in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.
Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said Friday that 130 people had survived the theater bombing.
“As of now, we know that 130 people have been evacuated, but according to our data, there are still more than 1,300 people in these basements, in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they will all be alive, but so far there is no information about them.”
Russia Vows to Block Transfer of S-300 Missile System to Ukraine
Russia has reiterated its threat to target arms shipments to Ukraine, with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov saying Friday that any cargo believed to be carrying weapons are “fair game” while vowing to block the transfer of Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems to Kyiv.
“Any cargo moving into Ukrainian territory which we would believe is carrying weapons would be fair game,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russia Today.
Slovakia has said that it is ready to send its S-300 system to Ukraine “immediately” provided that it receives a replacement to protect its own airspace.
Read the full article here
Three Baltic Countries Order Expulsion of Russian Embassy Staff Members
Three Baltic countries have ordered the expulsion of Russian embassy staff members in a coordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.
Lithuania’s foreign ministry said on Friday that four Russian embassy staff are no longer welcome in the country, while in neighboring Latvia, three Russian staff were declared persona non grata.
Russia’s ambassador to Lithuania, Aleksei Isakov, was informed that their activities were incompatible with the status of a diplomat, according to the official statement of the Lithuanian foreign ministry.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that the expulsion of the embassy staff was a coordinated action of the Baltic States, which include former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
Estonia also announced on Friday that it was ordering three staff of the Russian Embassy in the capital Tallinn to leave the country.
Zelensky Says He Expects Progress on EU Membership Bid Within Months
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke with the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Friday and Ukraine expects progress to be made on its application to join the European Union in the coming months.
“Had substantial conversation with E.C. President,” Zelensky said on Twitter. “E.C. opinion on UA (Ukraine) application for #EU membership will be prepared within few months. UA Government and E.C. are instructed. Moving to our strategic goal together.”
However, the leaders of all 27 European Union (EU) nations, who voiced their support of Ukraine’s pursuit of E.U. membership, rejected to put it on the fast track earlier in March.
Russian Broadcaster RT’s UK License Revoked With Immediate Effect
Britain’s broadcast regulator Ofcom has revoked the UK license of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT with immediate effect.
Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said: “Freedom of expression is something we guard fiercely in this country, and the bar for action on broadcasters is rightly set very high.
“Following an independent regulatory process, we have today found that RT is not fit and proper to hold a licence in the UK. As a result, we have revoked RT’s UK broadcasting licence.”
Read the full article here
Poland to Propose Ukraine Peacekeeping Mission at NATO Summit, Says PM
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says that Poland will formally submit a proposal for a peacekeeping and humanitarian mission on Ukraine’s territory at next week’s extraordinary NATO summit.
Morawiecki stressed Friday that Poland had already made the proposal during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. Denmark has expressed readiness to join such a mission.
The idea for a NATO or wider international peacekeeping mission under military protection was launched by Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski during a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia.
NATO leaders have been opposed to the alliance’s presence in Ukraine over concerns it could escalate the conflict.
Bulgaria to Expel 10 Russian Diplomats
Bulgaria says it has declared 10 Russian diplomats “persona non grata” and demanded their expulsion.
In a statement on Friday, Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said that Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had been consulted on the expulsions.
An official note was handed to Russia’s ambassador in the capital Sofia requiring that the diplomats leave Bulgaria within 72 hours over their alleged involvement in “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status,” the statement said.
European Union and NATO member Bulgaria, which was one of Moscow’s closest allies in the Soviet bloc, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has expelled 10 other Russian diplomats suspected of espionage since October 2019.
Putin Tells Scholz That Kyiv Is Stalling Peace Talks With Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a phone call on Friday that Kyiv was attempting to stall peace talks with Russia but that Moscow was still keen to continue negotiations.
“It was noted that the Kyiv regime is attempting in every possible way to delay the negotiation process, putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals,” the Kremlin said in a readout of the call. “Nonetheless the Russian side is ready to continue searching for a solution in line with its well-known principled approaches.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for a ceasefire in Ukraine during his phone call with Putin, a German government spokesperson said.
In their nearly hour-long conversation, Scholz also stressed that the humanitarian situation needed to be improved and progress needed to be made in finding a diplomatic solution as soon as possible.
Burger King Owner Claims Russian Operator Is ‘Refusing’ to Shut Restaurants
The owner of fast food restaurant Burger King has claimed that its independent operator in Russia is “refusing” to allow it to close its restaurants within the country.
Burger King, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International (RBI) and has around 800 fully franchised outlets in Russia, announced on March 10 that it had decided to suspend all corporate support within the country in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, RBI President David Shear said in an open letter to employees that the operator of its stores in Russia is refusing to allow it to do so.
“We suspended all corporate support for the Russian market, including operations, marketing, and supply chain support in addition to refusing approvals for new investment and expansion,” Shear said.
Read the full article here
Russia’s Illusions About the West Are Over, Lavrov Says
Russia has lost all illusions about relying on the West and Moscow will never accept a view of the world dominated by a United States that wants to act like a global sheriff, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
Russian Missiles Strike Lviv: Mayor
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said Friday on Telegram that several missiles hit a facility used to repair military aircraft and damaged a bus repair facility, though no casualties were immediately reported.
The plant had suspended work ahead of the attack, the mayor said.
The missiles that hit Lviv were launched from the Black Sea, but two of the six that were launched were shot down, Ukrainian air force’s western command claimed on Facebook.
Russia and Canada in Twitter Spat Over ‘Kindergarten-Level’ UN Letter Post
Russia accused Canada on Thursday of childishly annotating a letter it sent at the United Nations seeking support for its draft resolution on providing aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine, which Ottawa reacted to with pointed comments.
In a spat on Twitter, Canada’s UN mission added multiple remarks to the March 16 missive from Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.
The U.N. Security Council will no longer vote on Friday on the draft resolution.
Diplomats said it would have failed with most of the 15-member council likely to abstain from a vote on it because it did not address accountability or acknowledge Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or push for an end to the fighting or a withdrawal of Russian troops.
In the spat on Twitter, Canada’s UN mission annotated one part of the Russian letter that read: “Like other members of the international community, we are gravely concerned about its deterioration.”
Canada’s UN mission crossed out the first few words and changed the rest to read: “We are not gravely concerned about its deterioration,” and inserted at the end “because we are the primary cause.”
In a later section, Canada asked: “Do you think the UN membership actually believes this?” On the final page Canada suggested part of an alternative end: “We want you to know just how little we care about the human life we have destroyed.”
Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations, hit back on Thursday:
“Thank you @CanadaONU for this kindergarten-level Russophobic libel!” he wrote on Twitter.
“It only shows that your diplomatic skills and good manners are at lowest ebb and gives an idea why your country’s bid for a non-permanent seat in #SecurityCouncil was voted down twice in 20yrs by UN membership,” Polyanskiy said, adding a thumbs-down emoji.
Relations between Russia and several Western nations continue to plummet to new lows since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia Will Not Ask UN Council Vote on Its Ukraine Resolution
Russia’s U.N. ambassador says he is not asking for a vote Friday on its resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has been sharply criticized by Western countries for making no mention of Russia’s responsibility for the war against its neighbor.
Vassily Nebenzia told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that Russia decided at this stage not to seek a vote because of pressure from the United States and Albania on U.N. members to oppose it, but he stressed that Moscow is not withdrawing the resolution.
Norway Prime Minister Calls for Increased Military Budget
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre wants an extra allocation of 3.5 billion kroner ($400 million) for 2022 to strengthen NATO member Norway’s Armed Forces and civil preparedness.
Gahr Støre told Norway’s parliament that the money will be used to “strengthen our ability to prevent, deter and deal with digital attacks.”
In a speech to the Scandinavian country’s parliament about Ukraine, Gahr Støre said Norway was gearing up “to handle an extraordinary situation with up to 100,000 refugees.”
US House Backs Removal of ‘Most-Favored’ Trade Status for Russia, Belarus
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed legislation on Thursday to remove “most favored nation” trade status for Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine, paving the way for higher tariffs on imports from the countries.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 424–8 in favor of removing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, the latest congressional effort to put economic pressure on Moscow.
To become law, the measure must also pass the Senate. Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would move through the Senate quickly, after approval by the House.
The move to revoke Russia’s status at the World Trade Organization is being coordinated with similar efforts by other G7 democracies. It would automatically raise U.S. tariffs to non-WTO rates for imports from Russia and it authorizes U.S. President Joe Biden to proclaim higher tariff rates on products from both Russia and Belarus.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Official Meets With Russia’s Ambassador to China
A Chinese foreign ministry official met with Russia’s ambassador to China on March 17 to exchange views on bilateral relations, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Cheng Guoping, Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Affairs at China’s foreign ministry, met with Andrey Denisov of Russia and exchanged views on bilateral counter-terrorism and security cooperation, according to the statement.
Australia Sanctions Russian Billionaires With Mining Industry Links
Australia imposed sanctions on Friday on two Russian oligarchs with links to its mining industry, one of them a billionaire with an investment connection to Rio Tinto’s Gladstone alumina refinery joint venture.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was working in close cooperation with international partners to increase sanctions pressure on oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.
“Australia has now added two billionaires with links to business interests in Australia, Oleg Deripaska, and Viktor Vekselberg,” Payne said in a statement.
The measures are in addition to curbs on 41 oligarchs and immediate family members who already face targeted financial sanctions and travel bans, she said.
Payne said the government welcomed Australian companies taking a principled stand with moves to cut ties with Russia “in protest of Moscow’s illegal, indefensible war against Ukraine.”
Japan Slaps New Sanctions on Russian Defence Officials, Arms Exporter
Japan said on Friday it will impose sanctions against 15 Russian individuals and nine organizations, including defense officials and state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
The sanctions, which include asset freezing, are the latest in a series of measures by Japan following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Japan has now slapped sanctions on 76 individuals, seven banks, and 12 other organizations in Russia, according to the finance ministry.
The government on Friday designated Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and several military equipment makers including United Aircraft Corp, which manufactures fighter jets.
Andrew Thornebrooke, Katabella Roberts, Tom Ozimek, Alexander Zhang, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to the report.