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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 16

A stray cat named "Whiskas" by the battalion stationed in this undisclosed location near the frontline town of Kreminna walks past a a tail section of a rocket, in Ukraine March 14, 2023.
A stray cat named "Whiskas" by the battalion stationed in this undisclosed location near the frontline town of Kreminna walks past a a tail section of a rocket, in Ukraine March 14, 2023.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia's war on Ukraine. All times EDT.

10 p.m.: Russia's forced transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children to areas under its control amounts to a war crime, U.N. investigators said Thursday, adding that they are probing allegations of genocide in the Ukraine conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.

Presenting their first report, the high-level team of investigators said they had determined that Russian authorities had committed "a wide range of war crimes" since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. They also warned of possible crimes against humanity.

But Erik Mose, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), said that so far they "have not found that there has been a genocide within Ukraine."

Asked about specific accusations of genocide, including the forced transfer of Ukrainian children to areas under Russian control, Mose said: "We are absolutely aware of these possibilities, and we will pursue this" if the commission's mandate is prolonged.

The investigators' report did however conclude that the forced deportations of Ukrainian children "violate international humanitarian law, and amount to a war crime.”

According to Kyiv, 16,221 Ukrainian children had been deported to Russia as of last month.

8:55 p.m.: Crouched in a small forest, the leader of a Ukrainian commando unit briefs his troops before their mission to counter Russia's offensive to capture the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reports.

The special forces aim to defend the nearby village of Grygorivka in the Donetsk region, about 10 kilometres (six miles) northwest of Bakhmut, which is coming under heavy Russian shelling.

If Moscow's soldiers and the Russian mercenary group Wagner take the village, it would help them to close pincers around Bakhmut, the centre of the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion.

"We're defending positions on the heights near the village. Our mission is to stop the enemy attack and provide artillery support for our infantry," the commando chief tells AFP, declining to give his name.

Dressed in cagoules and helmets and carrying small camouflage rucksacks, the elite troops are armed with TAR-21 assault rifles -- an Israeli design of weapon manufactured under licence in Ukraine.

8:05 p.m.: Ukrainians Use 1970s Mortars in Donbas Battle: Ukrainian troops use whatever comes to hand in their battles against invading Russian forces. RFE/RL correspondent Maryan Kushnir visited a unit near Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, armed with French mortars dating from 1973. It may be old kit, but one soldier said it was still better than the Soviet-made mortars they were using before. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has the report.

7:17 p.m.:

6:37 p.m.: In Voronezh, south of Moscow, military recruiting offices are sending out orders to draft-age men, telling them to update their contact information, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

Likewise in the Penza region, further east, “the clarification of personal data is being conducted,” an unnamed military official told state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Same in Udmurtia, on the Volga River region, a fact that prompted the regional governor to appear on state-run TV to try and reassure people that there is no mandatory mobilization under way -- merely a call for volunteers willing “to defend the Fatherland, to defend its interests.”

In the 13 months since President Vladimir Putin launched what is now the largest land war in Europe since World War II, Russian forces have suffered major -- some Western officials say “catastrophic” --casualties. Estimates announced recently by the U.S. State Department put the figure of Russian dead and wounded at upwards of 200,000.

5:55 p.m.: Hunt for Russian Armor: Ukrainian Drone Reconnaissance in the Donbas: Current Time's Borys Sachalko watches as a drone operator from Ukraine's 1st Tank Brigade targets Russian positions in the country's eastern Donbas region. He's also shown a Russian tank which Ukrainian forces say they seized after it was abandoned by its crew. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has the report.

5:05 p.m.:

4:21 p.m.: Switzerland's parliament on Thursday approved a bill allowing for the prosecution of the perpetrators of crimes of aggression under the country's own national legislation, a power it had not previously had, Reuters reported.

The bill's approval comes hours after a United Nations investigative body said it had found "reasonable grounds" to conclude that Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its attacks against the Ukrainian armed forces qualified as acts of aggression.

The crime of aggression is broadly defined as the invasion of, or attempt to gain political and military control over, another sovereign state.

"Switzerland's adoption of crime of aggression in its legislation would allow it to step up the fight against impunity for the gravest crimes under international law," the parliament said in a statement after the bill was passed with 127 votes in favor and 53 against.

3:15 p.m.: The Polish and Czech presidents discussed on Thursday further support for Ukraine, as well as regional security and joint infrastructure projects, The Associated Press reported.

The new Czech president, Petr Pavel, visited Warsaw on his second foreign trip to underline the two NATO members’ good relations and similar approach to security challenges in the region.

Pavel, who took office last week, said relations between the two neighbors have “probably never been at such an excellent level.” He said the war in Ukraine has “made everyone realize in very serious terms where the true values are and what is the value of cooperation with our allies, our friends.”

Pavel and Polish President Andrzej Duda said they discussed the region’s security in preparation for a NATO summit in July in Vilnius, Lithuania.

They also discussed developing gas pipeline systems that are helping both wean themselves off dependence on Russian energy supplies, as well as boosting railway and road infrastructure.

They vowed continued support to Ukraine amid the full-scale Russian invasion, and for the country’s reconstruction.

2:30 p.m.:

2:05 p.m.: Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday labeled as a terrorist organization the Free Russia legion, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

It is an armed group consisting of Russian citizens that fights alongside Ukraine's armed forces against invading Russian armed forces.

Former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, who currently resides in Kyiv, announced the creation of the Free Russia legion shortly after Russia launched its full-scale aggression against Ukraine in February last year.

1:40 p.m.:

1:15 p.m.: China is concerned about an escalation of the war in Ukraine and hopes Moscow and Kyiv will hold peace talks, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart on a phone call on Thursday, Reuters reported.

China, which has refrained from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, has urged both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire in its 12-point paper on the "political resolution of the Ukraine crisis".

The plan, which received a lukewarm welcome on both sides, called for the protection of civilians and respect for each other's sovereignty.

"China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible," Qin told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Qin added that China hopes Ukraine and Russia will not close the door to a political solution no matter how difficult and challenging the situation, the ministry said.

12:30 p.m.:

12:05 p.m.: Ukrainian tycoon Kostyantyn Zhevago should not be extradited over accusations of embezzling tens of millions of dollars because a fair trial cannot be guaranteed in "a war zone," his lawyer told a French court on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The 49-year-old billionaire, who controls London-listed iron pellet producer Ferrexpo (FXPO.L), was arrested at a ski resort in December at the request of Ukraine, which wants him over the disappearance of $113 million from the now bankrupt lender Finance & Credit Bank.

Zhevago, a former lawmaker and former beneficiary owner of Finance & Credit Bank, denies any wrong-doing. He was released on bail for 1 million euros ($1.06 million), pending his appearance at an appeals court in Chambery, near to where he was arrested.

"The right to a fair trial is not protected as long as Ukraine is under martial law," Zhevago's lawyer Jessica Finelle told the court, which is expected to give its ruling on March 30.

11:35 a.m.: Several former convicts who joined the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary army, have begun returning from the front. They fought in return for the promise of a pardon if they survived six months of war in Ukraine. In their ranks are murderers, thieves and a self-declared “Satanist.” Several are in hospital recovering from wounds sustained in the fighting. Reuters managed to make contact with 11 of these men. Five agreed to be interviewed by phone and messaging app. What follows is the most detailed insider account yet of Wagner's convict army: the fighters’ recruitment and training, the combat they saw in Ukraine, and their uncertain future in a Russia turned upside down by war with its neighbor.

10:50 a.m.: A former mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city was ordered to spend 14 days in custody on Thursday pending his trial on charges that could entail a longer prison term, part of authorities’ efforts to muzzle dissent, The Associated Press reported.

Yevgeny Roizman, a sharp critic of the Kremlin, is one of the most visible and charismatic opposition figures in Russia. He enjoyed broad popularity while serving as mayor of Yekaterinburg, a city of 1.5 million people in the Ural Mountains.

Last year, Roizman, 60, who was the mayor from 2013 to 2018, faced accusations of discrediting the Russian military and was barred from attending public events, using the internet, telephone or mail and communicating with anyone other than his lawyers and close family pending his trial.

10:10 a.m.: President Vladimir Putin urged Russia's billionaires on Thursday to put patriotism before profit, telling them to invest at home to shore up the economy in the face of Western sanctions, Reuters reported.

Addressing Russia's business elite in person for the first time since the day he sent his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year, Putin told them their role was not just to make money but to support society.

"A responsible entrepreneur is a real citizen of Russia, of his country, a citizen who understands and acts in its interests," Putin said. "He does not hide assets offshore, but registers companies here, in our country, and does not become dependent on foreign authorities."

9:50 a.m.:

9:35 a.m.: Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, according to a report from a U.N.-backed inquiry released Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

The sweeping human rights report, released a year to the day after a Russian airstrike on a theater in Mariupol killed hundreds sheltering inside, marked a highly unusual condemnation of a member of the U.N. Security Council.

Among potential crimes against humanity, the report cited repeated attacks targeting Ukrainian infrastructure since the fall that left hundreds of thousands without heat and electricity during the coldest months, as well as the “systematic and widespread” use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation.

A commission of inquiry is the most powerful tool used by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council to scrutinize abuses and violations around the world. The investigation released Thursday was set up during an urgent debate shortly after Russia’s invasion last year.

The commission’s three members are independent human rights experts, and its staff gets support and funding from the council and the U.N. human rights office.

9:15 a.m.: Poland will send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in coming days, Reuters reported, quoting the president on Thursday. It is the first of Kyiv's allies to provide such aircraft.

One of Ukraine's staunchest supporters, Warsaw has taken a leading role in persuading sometimes hesitant allies to provide Kyiv with heavy weaponry. It has said that any transfer of jets would be as part of a coalition.

"Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order," Andrzej Duda told a news conference. "The rest are being prepared, serviced."

On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that deliveries could be made in four to six weeks.

8:40 a.m.:

8:25 a.m.: The best way to defend Moldova from attack by Russia is to protect Ukraine, Britain's foreign minister said on Thursday, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty reported.

James Cleverly was speaking on a visit to Moldova where he announced 10 million pounds ($12 million) of British aid. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Moldova's pro-Western government and its allies have feared it could be dragged into the conflict.

The nation of 2.5 million people borders Ukraine and has Russian troops stationed in the pro-Moscow breakaway Transdniester region. Moscow says that is a case of unjustified "Russophobia."

8:10 a.m.: Ukraine's efforts to ensure it receives compensation from Russia for damage caused by its invasion are being hampered by allies' concerns about the legal precedents that might be set, Reuters reported, quoting a senior Ukrainian official.

Kyiv is trying to secure an international agreement setting a legal basis for Russian assets frozen by other countries - notably billions of dollars in Russian central bank assets - to be transferred to Ukraine to help rebuild the country.

But, offering a rare insight into Kyiv's negotiations with its partners, deputy justice minister Iryna Mudra said some countries were worried about setting a precedent that would put their own assets at risk, by opening them to compensation demands over past conflicts in which they were involved.

7:55 a.m.:

7:30 a.m.: Russian troops launched several waves of attacks on Ukrainian positions in and around Bakhmut over the past day, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday, quoting Ukraine's military, as the monthslong battle for the city in the eastern region of Donetsk continued at high intensity.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily bulletin that its forces fought off "numerous attacks" in the areas of Orikhovo-Vasylivka and Bohdanivka, north and west of Bakhmut, as Russian forces keep trying to encircle the city and cut off the defenders' supply lines while pushing toward the city center.

Russia also carried out a missile strike on the eastern city of Kharkiv, where it targeted civilian and energy infrastructure objectives, the military said.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder warned that the following months will be decisive for the outcome of the battle for eastern Ukraine.

"I think it's also important to kind of take a step back and look at the progress that has been made, while recognizing the fact that there still is a tough fight ahead, particularly as we go into the...spring and summer," Ryder told a Pentagon briefing, adding that the United States will continue to do everything possible to meet Ukraine's military needs.

7:05 a.m.: The U.S. military released a video Thursday of a Russian military intercept that resulted in the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone Tuesday over the Black Sea. The video shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 dumping fuel as it approaches the U.S. MQ-9 drone from behind and passes over the top, VOA’s Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reported.

A second Sukhoi Su-27 approaches in a similar manner, and as it reaches the drone, the video feed is disrupted at the moment the U.S. military says the Russian fighter aircraft collided with the drone. A final shot shows the video feed restored and that one of the drone’s propeller blades has been bent.

The video’s release came a day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to his Russian counterpart about the encounter.

“The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows, and it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner,” Austin told reporters after announcing that he had “just got off the phone” with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. It was the first call between the two defense leaders since October, according to officials.

The downed U.S. MQ-9 drone was “conducting routine operations” in international airspace Tuesday, according to the U.S. military, when the pair of Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter aircraft intercepted it. U.S. forces brought down the drone in international waters after the Russian jet struck the drone’s propeller.

6:25 a.m.:

6:10 a.m.: Russian police on Thursday detained opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman again, this time over a post on social media, news agencies reported.

The popular former mayor of the Urals city of Yekaterinburg is already awaiting trial on charges of "discrediting" the Russian army.

Roizman is one of the last opposition figures still in the country and not behind bars, Agence France-Presse reported.

His lawyer Vladislav Idamzhapov confirmed to Russian news agencies that he had been detained.

He was held over sharing a post of opposition figure Alexei Navalny's foundation on social media platform VKontakte in May 2022, according to Russian media.

5:50 a.m.:

5:30 a.m.: Agence France-Presse reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday warned that it was crucial to provide Ukraine as soon as possible with fresh ammunition to resist Russia's invasion and pledged quick EU action.

"It is very important that we quickly supply Ukraine with the necessary munitions," Scholz told the lower house of parliament, promising action at a summit in Brussels next week.

He said member states would "pass measures to ensure even better, continuous supplies".

"And we are prepared to open up our procurement projects to other member states as well," Scholz said.

Ukraine's Western backers warn that Kyiv is facing a critical shortage of howitzer shells as it fires thousands each day in its fight against a grinding Russian offensive.

Kyiv has told the EU it needs 350,000 shells a month to help fight back the Russian assault and allow it to launch its own counter-offensives.

4:55 a.m.:

4:15 a.m.: Poland has broken up a espionage network operating in the country, the defense minister said on Thursday, after private broadcaster RMF FM reported that a group of spies working for Russia had been detained.

Reuters cited RMF as reporting on Wednesday that Polish security services had detained six people suspected of spying for Russia. According to the broadcaster the group had been planning sabotage activities.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the report.

"I would like to emphasize the great success achieved by the officers of the Internal Security Agency, because the whole spy network has been unraveled," Mariusz Blaszczak told state broadcaster Polskie Radio 1.

"This is undoubtedly proof that the Polish services work for the security of our country in a very efficient manner."

Blaszczak declined to comment further on the case and said more details would be announced by Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski at a news conference at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT).

On Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda met with CIA Director William Burns. The president's office said on Twitter that they discussed "the current security situation."

According to the RMF report, the six people arrested were from countries to the east of Poland and were working for Russian intelligence. The spies had hidden cameras on important railway routes, mainly in the southern Podkarpackie region.

According to RMF, cameras were found close to the Jasionka airport near Rzeszow, which has become a key transfer point for weapons and ammunition being delivered to Ukraine.

RMF reported that security had been stepped up around key railway routes and critical infrastructure as a result of the discovery of the spy network.

3:50 a.m.: China hopes the Black Sea grain deal can be implemented in a balanced and comprehensive manner, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday, adding that China would like to strengthen communication with all parties and enhance global food security.

According to Reuters, the comments were in response to a question at a regular press briefing about Russia's proposal to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative for 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal.

3:30 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to soon visit Russia's Vladimir Putin and, according to media, hold a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy weeks after China proposed a 12-point plan for peace in Ukraine.

China's foreign ministry has said it is in communication with both sides and, while it has not confirmed Xi's plan for talks with either Putin or Zelenskyy, there is speculation that China may try to get the rivals to the negotiating table.

Reuters examined some of the issues China and others are likely to be taking into account as it considers prospects for peace in Ukraine.

3 a.m.:

2:30 a.m.:

1:20 a.m.: Reuters reported that the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has issued a formal warning to Anastasia Potapova for wearing a T-shirt of Russian soccer team Spartak Moscow before her match against Jessica Pegula at Indian Wells this week.

Russian Potapova's actions were viewed as a public show of support for her country during its invasion of Ukraine and the 21-year-old was criticized by world number one Iga Swiatek.

Potapova, when asked about the shirt after the match, said she had supported Spartak since she was 13 and saw no provocation in it.

12:45 a.m.:

12:01 a.m.: A pro-Russian prankster impersonates a former US ambassador to Moscow in live video calls, part of a disinformation campaign that researchers say seeks to ensnare high-level Western officials since the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian comedy duo Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, who go by Vovan and Lexus, have long been notorious for pranking politicians and celebrities around the world, from Justin Trudeau to Elton John and Boris Johnson.

But the pair, once dubbed Russia's Jerky Boys who have long denied any connection to the Kremlin, appear to have steadily morphed from mischief-makers to a pro-Kremlin tool of information warfare.

Cybersecurity researchers say that since the start of Russia's invasion, they have ramped up their targeting of high-profile officials and executives in North America and Europe who have spoken out against Moscow.

Agence France-Presse had the full report.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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