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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 17

People light candles to honor those killed in the Mariupol drama theatre a year ago, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 16, 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.:

8:45 p.m.: The United Nations aviation council on Friday voted to hear a case against Russia over the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the foreign ministers of Australia and the Netherlands said, according to a Reuters report.

Australia and the Netherlands initiated the action over MH17 last year at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The passenger jet was struck over rebel-held eastern Ukraine by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board.

Australia has said Russia was responsible under international law and that taking the matter to ICAO would be a step forward in the fight for victims who included 38 Australians.

The ICAO upheld its jurisdiction to hear the matter during a session on Friday, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a written statement.

7:46 p.m.:

7:10 p.m.: Heads of state from the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) on Friday held a one-day summit to discuss the region's economy and the impact of the Ukraine war, Agence France-Presse reported.

Cameroonian President Paul Biya hosted five of his counterparts for the meeting, whose proceedings were held behind closed doors.

The six-nation group comprises the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo in addition to Cameroon, in a union around a common currency, the CFA franc.

Several of its members are exporters of oil, whose price has been buffeted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

6:08 p.m.: Russia's Defense Ministry says fighter pilots involved in an incident with a U.S. drone that resulted in its crash will be given state awards, The Associated Press reported.

Friday's announcement appears to signal Moscow’s intention to adopt a more aggressive stance toward future American surveillance flights.

The U.S. military said it ditched the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper in the Black Sea on Tuesday after a pair of Russian fighter jets dumped fuel on the surveillance drone and then one of them struck its propeller while it was flying in international airspace. Moscow has denied that its warplanes hit the drone.

5:27 p.m.: The International Monetary Fund said its executive board on Friday approved rule changes that would allow the IMF to approve new loan programs for countries that face "exceptionally high uncertainty" -- a move that is expected to pave the way for a new Ukraine loan program, Reuters reported.

The Fund said in a statement on Friday that the changes to its financing assurances policy would apply to countries experiencing "exogenous shocks that are beyond the control of country authorities and the reach of their economic policies."

4:15 p.m.: A popular anti-Kremlin stand-up comedian had this week his microphone cut off during a show in Uzbekistan whenever he spoke about President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported.

Russian comedian Danila Poperechny, who has more than 1.6 million followers on Instagram, performed in the Uzbek capital Tashkent this week.

"When he performed they cut off his mic 15 times," a concert hall administrator told AFP on Friday, referring to the organizers of Poperechny's show.

"Poperechny spoke about politics. He said things that cannot be said."

The administrator said Poperechny did not respect the terms of his contract.

3:21 p.m.: Russian companies have flooded their Kazakh partners in recent weeks with new requests to help them circumvent Western sanctions and import badly needed goods, seven sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

After Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year, the West imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia's $2.1 trillion economy, prompting Moscow to seek circuitous routes for importing technology and goods.

With the sale of thousands of items banned by the West, traders established an elaborate network of supply chains through third countries to bypass the restrictions. Many goods enter via Turkey and former Soviet republics, economists say.

The seven sources, who all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said they had seen a rise in Russian requests to help get everything from bearings and aircraft parts to rare earth metals across Kazakhstan's 7,591-kilometer (4,717-mile) land border with Russia.

2:30 p.m.: The Ukrainian government says that nearly one-third of its territory is mined, and that when the war ends, demining could last a decade or more. VOA’s Evgeny Maslov has more in this story.

After War, Ukraine Might End Up Largest Minefield in World
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2:15 p.m.: Russia has imposed sanctions on 23 citizens of the United Kingdom, which has been among the strongest backers of Ukraine since the Kremlin launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion in February 2022, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the move was a response to London's "military and technical support of Ukraine."

Persons targeted by Russian sanctions include British military personnel, political analysts, judges, and officials of the British penitentiary system.

1:55 p.m.:

1:40 p.m.: A court in St. Petersburg has upheld the right of a soldier conscripted during Russia's war in Ukraine to perform alternative civil service, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, quoting a rights group.

The group Voenniy Ombudsmen (Military Ombudsman) said the court ruled on March 16 that Pavel Mushumansky is entitled to perform alternative service on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

Media reports said Mushumansky, an evangelical Christian, did alternative service in 2019 in place of his military service. He was called up under a mobilization order in September, but his request for a similar arrangement was rejected.

1:25 p.m.:

1:10 p.m.: President Maia Sandu said on Friday she saw no danger of war in Moldova while Russia is fighting in Ukraine, despite what she said were Russian efforts to destabilize her country, Reuters reported.

Issuing a rallying cry during a speech to parliament, Sandu hailed Ukraine for holding out against Russia since Moscow invaded over a year ago, and urged Moldovans to unite behind the former Soviet republic's bid to join the European Union.

"There is no danger of war coming to Moldova while Ukraine is fighting," Sandu told parliament. "I want to reassure our citizens that Moldova is not now in any danger of war. The Russian army cannot get here while Ukraine holds out - and (thus) protects Moldova. We are grateful to Ukrainians for their bravery and love of freedom."

Moldova, a small country of 2.6 million people wedged between Ukraine and Romania, faces numerous problems - including an energy crisis, rising poverty and social tensions - that have been aggravated by Russia's war in Ukraine.

12:50 p.m.:

12:35 p.m.: In its first warrant for Ukraine, the ICC called for Putin's arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. As the news broke, Reuters published two fact boxes explaining more about the warrants and the ICC itself.

Here are some details of the warrants.

Here are some facts about the ICC.

12:20 p.m.: U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby spoke to VOA Friday about the news that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, alleging war crimes related to the abduction of children from Ukraine.

"I think this is just breaking news. We're going to have to take a look at this before we can make any kind of official comment,” Kirby said, according to VOA’s White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara

“Separate and distinct from that, President Biden has been clear we want to make sure that Russia is held accountable for the atrocities, for the war crimes, for the crimes against humanity that there are [being perpetrated] inside Ukraine against Ukrainian people,” Kirby said.

“We're going to continue to help international bodies as they collect evidence and begin to analyze that evidence going forward. But I wouldn't get any further than that right now," he added.

12 p.m.: Any possible trial of Russian President Vladimir Putin or other Russians at the International Criminal Court for war crimes because of alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine remains a long way off, The Associated Press reported Friday.

Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction— a position reaffirmed on Friday by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a first reaction to the warrants. “The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” she said.

While Russia rejected the allegations and warrants of the court as null and void, others said the ICC action will have an important impact.

“The ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit, or tolerating, serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague.”

Ukrainian officials were jubilant.

“The world changed,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the “wheels of Justice are turning,” and added that “international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”

11:25 a.m.: The International Criminal Court said Friday it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Putin for war crimes because of his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

The court said in a statement that Putin “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

It also issued a warrant Friday for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, on similar allegations.

The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children."

11:05 a.m.:

10:55 a.m.: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen flew on Friday to a North Sea platform to discuss the security of supplies and infrastructure, a visit underlining Norway's importance for gas shipments since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

They talked about the protection of infrastructure and gas supplies to Europe with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and Equinor CEO Anders Opedal.

Security at Norwegian petroleum installations was increased after the explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines on Sept. 26 in the Baltic Sea, with NATO allies providing military support.

Norway's energy infrastructure is vital, but vulnerable, because of its size, involving thousands of kilometers of pipelines as well as internet and power cables, Stoltenberg told reporters.

NATO and the EU in January set up a task force to boost the protection of critical infrastructure in response to the Nord Stream explosions. Its first meeting took place on Thursday, von der Leyen said on Friday.

10:40 a.m.: Germany's fencing federation has cancelled a women's foil World Cup event after the sport's global governing body (FIE) reversed a ban on athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Athletes from the two countries were banned from many international competitions after Russia invaded Ukraine last February in what Moscow calls a "special military operation."

More than 60 percent of nations voted to allow Russians and Belarusians to resume competing in FIE events at last week's extraordinary congress.

10:25 a.m.:

10:10 a.m.: Curfew hours will be reduced in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, the Kyiv Independent reported Friday.

Kyiv City Military Administration will reduce the curfew in the capital by one hour, "most likely" starting from March 26, said the administration's head Serhii Popko.

It will last from 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. every day.

9:50 a.m.: The Kremlin said on Friday that Ukraine was "illegally attacking" the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - which until recently accepted the authority of the patriarch of Moscow - adding that this confirmed the need for its "special military operation," Reuters reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian leaders have accused the long-established Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of undermining Ukrainian unity and collaborating with Moscow. Ukrainian officials last week ordered the UOC to leave the monastery complex in Kyiv where it is based, drawing fierce condemnation from Moscow.

"With these illegal attacks on the church, the Kyiv regime is once again demonstrating its character, the very character we are fighting, the very character that we must stop through the (military) operation that is taking place," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia says one of the reasons why it sent its troops into Ukraine more than a year ago was to defend Russian-speakers and Russian culture from persecution. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss this as a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.

9:35 a.m.:

9:20 a.m.: The Kremlin said Friday that fighter jets given to Ukraine by Poland and Slovakia would be destroyed, and repeated that Western arms deliveries to Kyiv would not change Russia's military aims, Agence France-Presse reported.

“The supply of this military equipment – as we have repeatedly said – will not change the outcome of the special military operation…of course, all this equipment will be destroyed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

9:05 a.m.: Slovakia on Friday became the second of Ukraine's allies to provide MIG-29 fighter jets which Kyiv believes are crucial to repel Russia's year-long invasion, Reuters reported.

Slovakia joined Poland, which announced its delivery of the planes on Thursday. Both the NATO members neighbor Ukraine.

Its fleet of 11 MiG-29 planes was retired last summer and most of them are not in operational condition. It will send those that are operational and the rest will go for spare parts. Slovakia will also supply part of its KUB air-defense system, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said.

"Today, the government decided and unanimously approved an international agreement (on the donation)," Heger said. "The process of handing over these fighter jets is closely coordinated with the Polish side, with Ukraine and, of course, with other allies," he said.

Slovakia will receive financial compensation the European Union. It has also reached an agreement with the United States on deliveries of military material worth around $700 million, Heger said.

8:50 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Russia from Monday to Wednesday, an apparent show of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin amid sharpening East-West tensions over the war in Ukraine and the latest sign of Beijing’s emboldened diplomatic ambitions, The Associated Press reported.

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is expected to dominate Putin and Xi’s discussions. China has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and sought to project itself as neutral in the conflict even while Beijing declared last year that it had a “no-limits” friendship with Russia.

Both China and Russia announced Xi’s trip to Moscow on Friday. The visit offers a diplomatic shot in the arm for Putin as Western leaders have sought to isolate him over the war, which is now in its 13th month.

China’s refusal to condemn Russia while denouncing Western sanctions and accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action has irked Washington as it competes with Beijing for influence.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin and Xi would have a one-on-one meeting over an informal dinner Monday. Broader talks involving officials from both countries are scheduled for Tuesday. Peskov would not provide details about the discussions.

8:35 a.m.: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has presented awards to the pilots of two Su-27 fighter planes that intercepted a U.S. drone near the airspace around Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, his ministry said on Friday, according to Reuters.

The drone crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday after being intercepted by Russian jets, in the first known direct military encounter between Russia and the United States since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.

Announcing the awards, the ministry repeated Russia's version of events - disputed by Washington - that the Russian planes did not make physical contact with the drone.

The Pentagon on Thursday released a 40-second edited video showing a Russian fighter jet coming close to a U.S. military drone in the air, dumping fuel near it, and a damaged propeller in the aftermath. The top U.S. general said the incident demonstrated Moscow’s increasingly aggressive behavior.

8:18 a.m.: Russian media reports cited sources in emergency services on Friday as saying that the death toll has risen to four in a fire that broke out the previous day in the compound of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, which is located close to Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions where fierce fighting between invading Russian troops and Ukraine's armed forces is taking place. According to the reports, five people were hospitalized and rescue work continues, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Libery’s Caucasus.Realities. Earlier reports said one person was killed and two injured in the fire.

7:08 a.m.: The Kremlin says Russia is extending a deal that allows Ukraine to export grain through its Black Sea ports for another 60 days, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's comments on Friday come one day before the deal was set to expire. The pact can be extended only with Russia's agreement. Moscow had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the deal, hinting that it might not approve an extension.

It was not clear when an actual agreement on the extension would be signed. The United Nations Office in Geneva said discussions were ongoing.

6:15 a.m.: Despite being outnumbered and outgunned by Moscow's forces, Ukrainian soldiers defending the ruined city of Bakhmut are continuing to hold onto their positions. See photos from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

5:10 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line. They also continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City line and in Western Donetsk Oblast.

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted localized assaults in Zaporizhia Oblast, the assessment said.

4:20 a.m.: Polish authorities say the nation’s security services have detained members of a Russian espionage ring, The Associated Press reported.

They say that the alleged spies were preparing acts of sabotage in Poland and had been monitoring railroad routes used for the transport of weapons into Ukraine. The interior minister said Thursday that the Internal Security Agency had arrested nine people suspected of spying for Russia in the case.

Three were detained Wednesday. He said at a news conference in Warsaw on Thursday that the suspects were preparing “sabotage actions aimed at paralyzing the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine.”

3:12 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said the rate of Russian offenses appear to be at their lowest since January. It looks to be a manpower and munitions issue. Even so, Russian forces have taken land west of the Bakhmutka River, crossing the river that had marked the front line.

2:31 a.m.: The Kyiv Independent reported that Russian forces shelled the communities of Bilopilla and Shalyhyne on Thursday. Both communities are in Sumy Oblast.

1:13 a.m.:

12:02 a.m.: The White House said Thursday that talks between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Chinese leader Xi Jinping would be a "good thing," but warned Beijing against taking a "one-sided" view of the conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.

"We think it would be a very good thing if the two of them talk," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters when asked about a Wall Street Journal report that the Ukrainian leader is set to talk with Xi for the first time since Chinese-ally Russia invaded.

"We support and have supported" contact, Kirby said. But he cautioned against a Chinese push for a ceasefire in Ukraine, saying it would simply help Russian aggression.

There has been no confirmation of a call to Zelenskyy by Xi. However, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba talked by phone Thursday.

Xi is also reported to be preparing a trip to Moscow to speak with his ally President Vladimir Putin.

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