Russia-Ukraine (March 22): Russians Destroy Chernobyl Laboratory: Ukrainian State Agency

Russia-Ukraine (March 22): Russians Destroy Chernobyl Laboratory: Ukrainian State Agency
The structure of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) covering the 4th block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was destroyed during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is pictured on Nov. 22, 2018. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, March 22. Click here for updates from March 21.

Russians Destroy Chernobyl Laboratory: Ukrainian State Agency

Russian military forces have destroyed a new laboratory at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that among other things works to improve management of radioactive waste, the Ukrainian state agency responsible for the Chernobyl exclusion zone said Tuesday.

The Russian military seized the decommissioned plant at the beginning of the war. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around the plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown in 1986.

The state agency said the laboratory, built at a cost of 6 million euros with support from the European Commission, opened in 2015.

The laboratory contained “highly active samples and samples of radionuclides that are now in the hands of the enemy, which we hope will harm itself and not the civilized world,” the agency said in its statement.

Radionuclides are unstable atoms of chemical elements that release radiation.

In another worrying development, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency said Monday that radiation monitors around the plant had stopped working.


Zelensky Says Humanitarian Convoy Attacked

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces not only blocked a humanitarian convoy trying to reach besieged Mariupol with desperately needed supplies on Tuesday but took captive some of the rescue workers and bus drivers.

He said the Russians had agreed to the route ahead of time.

“We are trying to organize stable humanitarian corridors for Mariupol residents, but almost all of our attempts, unfortunately, are foiled by the Russian occupiers, by shelling, or deliberate terror,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians seized 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles. She said their fate was unknown. The figures couldn’t immediately be confirmed.


Ukraine Says Russia Talks Moving Forward as West Plans More Sanctions

Talks between Ukraine and Russia are moving forward, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday, as the West plans to announce more sanctions against the Kremlin amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.

But in an early morning address, Zelensky held out hope for negotiations, which have yielded little since the Feb. 24 invasion began.

“It’s very difficult, sometimes confrontational,” he said. “But step by step we are moving forward.”

Western nations plan to heap more pressure on the Kremlin.

Alongside European leaders, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia and new measures to tighten existing ones when he visits Brussels this week.

The United States is preparing sanctions on more than 300 members of Russia’s lower house of parliament as soon as Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed officials and internal documents. The White House did not immediately comment.

Biden’s Europe trip is also set to include an announcement on joint action to enhance energy security on the continent, which is highly reliant on Russian gas, and a visit to Poland to show solidarity with Ukraine’s neighbor.


Biden, European Leaders to Add More Sanctions Against Russia: US Official

U.S. President Joe Biden will join allies in applying additional sanctions against Russia and tightening existing ones during his trip to Brussels this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.

Biden leaves for Brussels on Wednesday and holds meetings with fellow leaders on Thursday.

Sullivan said Biden would work with allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture during his visit.


Macron Speaks With Putin, Zelensky

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday talked with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the terms of a potential cease-fire, according to the French presidency.

They reached “no agreement,” the statement said, but Macron “remains convinced of the need to continue his efforts” and he “stands alongside Ukraine.”

The Kremlin confirmed that Putin and Macron had a call in which they exchanged views about the situation in Ukraine, including the talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators. It didn’t give further details.


Biden Adviser: American Troops Aren’t Currently Training Ukrainians

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that U.S. troops are currently not involved in training Ukrainians amid its conflict with Russia.

“We do not have U.S. troops on the territory of Ukraine. We do of course have U.S. troops defending NATO territory,” he told reporters at the White House, adding that “we do not have U.S. troops currently training Ukrainians.”

But the United States, he added, has a “key role” in facilitating the transfer of military equipment provided by other NATO member states to Ukraine’s military. President Joe Biden will later announce joint action on enhancing European Union’s energy security and reducing the bloc’s dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, Sullivan continued.

Read the full article here


Psaki Tests Positive for CCP Virus

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has again tested positive for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, she announced in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

The press secretary said she had two “socially-distanced” meetings with President Joe Biden on Monday, ahead of the president’s planned trip to Europe this week, and that Biden has tested negative for the virus via PCR test.

The president is traveling to Brussels, Belgium, this week to attend a NATO summit and a European Council Summit. He will then visit Poland to meet with leadership there amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

Psaki, 43, says she is sharing the results of the test “out of an abundance of transparency,” adding that she is experiencing mild symptoms and will work from home, pending a negative test result and a five-day isolation period as recommended by the CDC.

Read the full article here


Mexico Criticizes US for Prioritizing Ukraine Aid Over Central America

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the United States on Tuesday for its swift action to approve aid to Ukraine even as investment in Central America is stalled over “bureaucracy.”

The United States has dedicated billions of dollars in assistance, including weapons, to Ukraine to fend off Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Russia refers to its incursion as a “special military operation.”

Lopez Obrador has long pressed the United States to invest more in Central America to help tackle the causes of migration. President Joe Biden has pledged at least $4 billion to promote development in Central America and southern Mexico.

“(The United States) has just authorized resources, and that is fine because it is its policy to protect Ukraine … but that was approved by the U.S. Congress I think in two days, and the support for the Central American brothers is already for four years and it’s not approved,” he told a news conference.


Europe Divided on Russian Oil and Gas Sanctions

The European Union’s foreign ministers remained divided on Monday on whether to sanction Russia’s energy sector over its invasion of Ukraine.

The EU has so far imposed four rounds of sanctions against Russia, targeting banks and oligarchs, while banning Russian aircraft from EU airspace and halting technology exports.

Russian energy imports, on which Europe is highly dependent, are proving far more challenging of a proposal, with Germany and the Netherlands expressing opposition.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Monday that a near-term Russian energy embargo was unrealistic.

Read the full article here


Denmark’s PM: Ukrainian Refugees Should Not Be Integrated Into Danish Society

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Tuesday that Ukrainian refugees should not be integrated into the Danish society but must instead return to Ukraine and help rebuild their homeland as soon as possible.

“Being a refugee is temporary, so you have to return and help build up your homeland when you get the opportunity. It gives us the opportunity to help other refugees,” Frederiksen said in Parliament during a debate.

Under a newly adopted law in Denmark, Ukrainian refugees can stay in the Scandinavian country for two years and can work, get an education and have access to health services.


Lawmakers Criminalize ‘Fake News’ About Russian Government Agencies Abroad

Russian lawmakers have adopted new legislation which could see those spreading “false information” on the work of the embassies and other entities face up to 15 years in jail. The move follows similar legislation targeting those spreading “fake news” about the actions of the Russian military forces.


Turkey Wants NATO Focused on Cease-Fire

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says this week’s meeting between NATO leaders should be focused on ways of securing a cease-fire in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and not just on sanctions and deterrence.

“Everyone’s first aim should be a cease-fire,” Cavusoglu told Turkish journalists on the sideline of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Pakistan on Tuesday. “It should be to stop the war that is going on right now. Everyone should act responsibly and constructively.”

Cavusoglu continued: “Of course, we need to show unity and solidarity within NATO, we need to show deterrence. But who is paying the price of the ongoing war?”

President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday in Brussels. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CBS on Sunday that the meeting is intended not just to show NATO’s “support to Ukraine, but also our readiness to protect and defend all NATO allies.”

Cavusoglu said Turkey was pressing with its efforts as a “mediator and facilitator” to end the fighting and was in touch with negotiators on both sides. Turkey was also trying to bring the warring sides to meet face to face again, Cavusoglu said.

Earlier this month, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met in Turkey on the sidelines of a diplomacy forum.


NATO Member Scrambles Fighter Jets Over Unidentified Incursion From Ukraine

Hungary scrambled fighter jets after an unidentified aircraft entered its airspace from Ukraine, according to the NATO country’s Ministry of Defense.

The NATO Joint Air Operations Center in Hungary scrambled Saab JAS 39 Gripen jets after the ministry was “alerted to an aircraft arriving from Ukraine,” said a statement released on Monday.

“The unidentified aircraft appeared on the radar in the eastern part of the country and headed for Slovakia,” said the statement. Both Slovakia, which borders Hungary to the north, and Hungary share a border with Ukraine.

The jets “checked the indicated airspace, carried out a patrol task there, and [surveyed] the safety of the airspace” before they returned to the NATO base in Kecskemet, Hungary, said the Defense Ministry. The identity of the aircraft that entered from Ukraine was not revealed.

Read the full article here 


Kremlin: Zelensky’s Referendum Idea Will Undermine Peace Talks

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Zelensky’s idea to put peace deal terms up for a referendum would only undermine the ongoing peace talks.


Pentagon: ‘Clear Evidence Russian Forces Are Committing War Crimes’

The Department of Defense has seen evidence that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“We certainly see clear evidence that Russian forces are committing war crimes, and we are helping with the collecting of evidence of that, but there’s investigative processes that are going to go on, and we’re going to let that happen,” Kirby told reporters on Monday.

Kirby did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged war crimes. He also did not provide evidence.

Russian officials have not issued a public response to Kirby’s assertions. However, on Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that U.S.–Russia ties are on the “verge of breaking” due to White House officials’ claims about war crimes being committed.

Read the full article here 


Euronews Channel Says It’s Blocked in Russia

International news channel Euronews says it has been blocked from broadcasting in Russia.

“We firmly condemn this intolerable restriction imposed on millions … in Russia who relied on us to get impartial news,” Euronews said, adding that Russian authorities pulled the channel off air and blocked its websites in Russia.

Euronews said it strongly rejected Russian claims it spread “fake news” and that it allegedly called on Russians to protest the war. It claimed it faced an “unacceptable threat of criminal liability” due to the new Russian law.


Greece’s Foreign Minister Says He Intends to Personally Escort Humanitarian Aid Into Mariupol

Greece’s foreign minister says he intends to personally escort humanitarian aid into the besieged southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Tuesday he had sent an official request to the Ukrainian side to facilitate the sending of humanitarian aid into the city, and an official request to the Russian side to let the delivery in. A sizeable Greek community lives in the Mariupol area.

Dendias did not provide any details on a possible date for the delivery or what the humanitarian aid would consist of.

He made the announcement after meeting with the Greek consul general in Mariupol, Manolis Androulakis, who arrived in Athens last Sunday after being evacuated from the city on March 15.


Serbia Refuses to Impose Sanctions on Russia

A senior Serbian official says Belgrade will never impose sanctions or join the Western “hysteria” against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Tuesday: “Serbia will never be part of the anti-Russian hysteria in which the property of Russian citizens and the property of the Russian Federation is stolen, just as we will not ban Russian media.”

The Balkan country is a staunch ally of Russia, though it has condemned its invasion of Ukraine.

Serbia is seeking membership of the European Union, but it is the only European country that has refused to join international sanctions against the Kremlin.


Kremlin Refuses to Comment on Tabloid Newspaper’s Reporting of Russian Military Casualties in Ukraine

The Kremlin has refused to comment on a top tabloid newspaper’s reporting of Russian military casualties in Ukraine.

The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reported Monday that 9,861 soldiers have been killed in action in Ukraine and another 16,153 have been wounded. It cited the Russian defense ministry.

The newspaper quickly removed the article from its website, describing it as the work of hackers.

Asked about the report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on it at Tuesday’s conference call with reporters, referring questions about the military casualties to the defense ministry.

On March 2, the defense ministry reported 498 soldiers had been killed and hasn’t released any casualty numbers since then.


Netherland Freezes $440 Million in Funds Linked to Russians Targeted by Sanctions

The Dutch government has frozen nearly 400 million euros ($440 million) in funds linked to Russians targeted by sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag revealed the latest figures on frozen accounts in a letter to Parliament on Tuesday.

She said that more than 242 million euros ($267 million) in funds linked to Russians have been frozen at Dutch trust companies and nearly 145 million euros ($160 million) in bank accounts.

The remainder of the frozen assets are being held at investment companies and pension funds.


Kremlin Rejects Biden’s Warning That Russia May Be Planning a Cyberattack Against US

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has rejected President Joe Biden’s warning that Russia may be planning a cyberattack against the United States.

Asked about Biden’s comments, Peskov said Tuesday that “the Russian Federation, unlike many Western countries including the United States, does not engage in banditry on the state level.”

Biden told a meeting of corporate CEOs on Monday that “evolving intelligence” indicated a cyberattack may be planned. He urged private companies to invest in their own security to counter cyberattacks.

Biden has suggested a cyberattack could be Russia’s response to economic sanctions imposed by the United States.


Wildfires Near Chernobyl Plant Extinguished

Ukraine’s natural resources minister says wildfires have been extinguished in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is under the control of Russian forces.

The fires have raised concern about the possible release of radiation from the plant, where a 1986 explosion and fire sent radioactive emissions across large parts of Europe.

But Natural Resources Minister Ruslan Strelets said Tuesday that radiation levels in the area are within the norms.

Ukrainian officials had earlier accused Russian forces of deliberately setting the fires or causing them with artillery shelling.


Zelensky Urges Italy to Beef Up Sanctions Against Russia and Seize Putin’s Assets

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging Italy to beef up sanctions against Russia and seize more assets from President Vladimir Putin and his allies as a way of pressuring Moscow into negotiating an end to the war.

Zelensky spoke to the Italian parliament Tuesday via video from Kyiv, as he has done with other foreign parliaments. Wearing a collared shirt and speaking through an Italian translator, Zelensky told Italian lawmakers that he had just spoken by phone to Pope Francis and that the pontiff had endorsed Ukraine’s right to defend itself.


Biden Says India ‘Somewhat Shaky’ on Russia Over Ukraine

President Joe Biden has said only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as India tries to balance its ties with Russia and the West.

While the other Quad countries—the United States, Japan, and Australia—have sanctioned Russian entities or people, India has not imposed sanctions or condemned Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.

“In response to his aggression, we have presented a united front throughout the NATO and in the Pacific,” Biden told a business forum on Monday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The Quad—with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of these—but Japan has been extremely strong, so is Australia in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”

After a virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Monday, India’s foreign ministry said Australia understood India’s position on Ukraine, which “reflected our own situation, our own considerations.”

India is also considering buying more Russian oil at a discount, with two Indian state companies recently ordering 5 million barrels.


Ukraine Claims to Retake Key Kyiv Suburb; Battle for Mariupol Rages

Ukrainian forces claimed they retook a strategically important suburb of Kyiv early Tuesday, as Russian forces squeezed other areas near the capital and their attack on the embattled southern port of Mariupol raged unabated.

Explosions and bursts of gunfire shook Kyiv, and black smoke rose from a spot in the north. Intensified artillery fire could be heard from the northwest, where Russia has sought to encircle and capture several suburban areas of the capital, a crucial target.


Japan Summons Russian Envoy After Halt to Peace Treaty Talks

Japan’s vice foreign minister summoned Russia’s ambassador on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said, a day after Moscow’s decision to halt peace treaty talks with Tokyo following sanctions imposed by Japan over Ukraine.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also said Tuesday that his government “strongly protests” Russia’s decision to terminate negotiations on a peace treaty over Tokyo’s response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it “extremely unreasonable.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday that Moscow was suspending peace treaty talks with Japan in light of the series of sanctions imposed against Russian leaders and financial institutions over the war in Ukraine.

The ministry said in a statement that it would be “impossible to discuss this fundamental document on bilateral relations with a state that holds an explicitly unfriendly position and seeks to harm the interests” of Russia.

“All responsibility for harming bilateral cooperation and the interests of Japan itself rests with Tokyo, which has deliberately chosen an anti-Russia course instead of developing mutually beneficial cooperation and neighborly relations,” it stated.


Ukraine Refugee Exodus Surpasses 3.5 Million

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, passing another milestone in an exodus that has led to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

UNHCR reported Tuesday that 3.53 million people have left Ukraine, with Poland taking in the lion’s share—more than 2.1 million—followed by Romania with more than 540,000 and Moldova with more than 367,000.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that nearly 6.5 million people are internally displaced within Ukraine, suggesting that some if not most of them might flee abroad if the war continues.


Zelensky Set to Deliver Address to Japanese Parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to virtually deliver his address to the Japanese Parliament on Wednesday to rally international support for his country’s fight against the Russian invasion.

Japan, unlike in the past, has been acting tough against Russia, in line with other Group of Seven countries, though Tokyo’s steps have triggered Moscow’s retaliation. A compromise could set a bad precedent in East Asia, where China is increasingly making assertive military actions.

Zelensky’s speech, expected to be about 10 minutes, will be shown in a meeting room at the lower house—the more powerful of Japan’s two-chamber Parliament which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida belongs to. Zelensky has made virtual addresses to the U.S. Congress, as well as parliaments in Europe, Canada, and Israel.


Grammarly Continues to Pay Full Salary, Benefits to Ukraine Employees Who Have Joined Army: CEO

Grammarly Inc. is continuing to pay full salaries and benefits to its employees in Ukraine who have joined the army amid Russia’s invasion, the company’s chief executive officer said on March 21.

“The team is, first and foremost, focused on their safety,” CEO Brad Hoover told Bloomberg.

He did not specify how many of Grammarly’s staffers have joined the Ukrainian army, however, prior to the Moscow-led invasion nearly half of Grammarly’s more than 600 employees were based in Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.


Zelensky Says Ukraine Ready to Discuss Deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Monday he was prepared to discuss a commitment from Ukraine not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.

“It’s a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn’t know what to do with us with regard to NATO, for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees, and for Russia, which doesn’t want further NATO expansion,” Zelensky said late Monday in an interview with Ukrainian television channels.

He also repeated his call for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unless he meets with Putin, it is impossible to understand whether Russia even wants to stop the war, Zelensky said.

Zelensky said that Kyiv will be ready to discuss the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists after a ceasefire and steps toward providing security guarantees.


Russia Halts Japan Peace Treaty Talks Over Sanctions

Russia has withdrawn from peace treaty talks with Japan and frozen joint economic projects related to the disputed Kuril islands due to sanctions imposed by Tokyo over Ukraine, setting off an angry reaction from Japan.

Russia and Japan have still not formally ended World War Two hostilities because of the standoff over islands just off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories. The islands were seized by the Soviets at the end of World War Two.

“Under the current conditions Russia does not intend to continue negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, citing Japan’s “openly unfriendly positions and attempts to damage the interests of our country.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he strongly opposed Russia‘s decision, terming it “unfair” and “completely unacceptable.”

Japan last week announced plans to revoke Russia‘s most-favored-nation trade status, expand the scope of asset freezes against Russian elites, and ban imports of certain products.


Zelensky: Russia Shells Humanitarian Corridor

Russian forces shelled along a humanitarian corridor on Monday, wounding four children who were among the civilians being evacuated, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nighttime video address to the nation. He said the shelling took place in the Zaporizhzhia region, the initial destination of those fleeing Mariupol.

The Ukrainian government said that about 3,000 people from Mariupol were evacuated on Monday.

Zelensky said he spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate their positions before Western leaders meet on Thursday.

“Our position will be expressed and will be expressed strongly, believe me,” Zelensky said.


US Warns of Potential Cyberattacks From Russia

The United States warned on Monday there was “evolving intelligence” that the Russian government was exploring options for potential cyberattacks, according to a statement from the White House.

“I urge our private sector partners to harden your cyber defenses immediately,” President Joe Biden said in the statement, adding everyone needed “to do their part to meet one of the defining threats of our time.”

 Katabella Roberts, Aldgra Fredly, Jack phillips, Tom Ozimek, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.

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