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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 21

Servicemen carry the coffin of volunteer soldier Bizhan Sharopov, a PhD neurobiologist and professor at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, killed in a battle with the Russian troops near Bakhmut, during a farewell ceremony in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 20, 2023.

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

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

11:10 p.m.:

10:30 p.m.: Russia announced Tuesday that it was extending until the end of June oil production cuts of 500,000 barrels per day, a response to Western sanctions that was to expire at the end of March, Agence France-Presse reported.

"In accordance with the current market situation, the decision to voluntarily reduce production by 500,000 barrels per day will be applicable until June 2023 inclusive," deputy prime minister in charge of energy issues Alexander Novak was cited as saying by Russian news agencies.

Novak announced the oil production cuts, which amount to about 5% of daily output, in February after Western countries announced new sanctions on Russian oil products.

The West has imposed sanctions against Russia since the Kremlin deployed Russian troops to Ukraine, including targeting Moscow's energy sector.

The International Energy Agency said this month that Russia's oil-export revenue sank by almost half in February compared to last year.

9:26 p.m.: An Italian court on Tuesday agreed to hand over to U.S authorities a Russian national who has been accused of offenses including shipping oil from Venezuela in breach of sanctions, Reuters reported.

Milan appeals court said in a statement on Tuesday it had agreed to the extradition of Artem Uss, but only on two of the four counts with which he is charged in the United States.

His lawyer, who could not immediately be reached for comment, could now lodge an appeal to Italy's top court to try to prevent his client from being sent across the Atlantic.

Judges gave the green light to extradite Uss, who was detained at Milan's Malpensa airport on an international arrest warrant last October and is now under house arrest, on charges of violating an embargo against Venezuela and for bank fraud.

However, the Italian appeals court ruled against handing over the Russian for the alleged crime of smuggling military technology from the United States to Russia and that of money laundering.

The judges wrote in the statement that they refused extradition due to lack of evidence for the first charge and the issue of "double jeopardy" for the second.

8:22 p.m.: Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it had protested to Canada's top diplomat in Moscow over comments by Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly about "regime change" in Russia, Reuters reported.

The ministry said it summoned Canadian charge d'affaires Brian Ebel on Monday and told him Joly's comments were unacceptable. A Canadian government source confirmed the official had been summoned.

"We're able to see how much we're isolating the Russian regime right now — because we need to do so economically, politically and diplomatically — and what are the impacts also on society and how much we're seeing potential regime change in Russia," Canadian media quoted Joly as saying at a news conference on March 10.

The Russian statement condemned the "Russophobic attack" and said it would have serious consequences for relations. Russia reserved the right to take "appropriate countermeasures" depending on Ottawa's further steps.

"President Putin has invaded his neighbor and is responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Joly. "As Minister Joly has said, we are focused on isolating the Russian regime, emptying its war chest and holding it to account for its crimes."

7:27 p.m.: The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday it has reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine for a four-year financing package worth about $15.6 billion, offering the country needed funds as it continues its battle against Russia's invasion, Reuters reported.

The agreement, which must still be ratified by the IMF's board, follows months of negotiations between IMF staff and Ukrainian authorities. The IMF said its executive board is expected to discuss approval in the coming weeks.

IMF staff briefed board members on the agreement, which would be Ukraine's biggest loan package since Russia's full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, on Tuesday, and the board was supportive, a source familiar with the matter said.

The global lender said the agreement is expected to help unleash large-scale financing for Ukraine from international donors and partners but gave no details. Typically, IMF loans unlock support from the World Bank and other lenders.

If approved, as expected, the loan would be the IMF's biggest loan to a country involved in an active conflict.

6:35 p.m.: Russian authorities on Tuesday raided the homes and offices of multiple human rights advocates and historians with the prominent rights group Memorial that won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, according to The Associated Press.

The wave of searches, after which police took Memorial activists in for questioning, is part of a steady and sweeping crackdown that the Kremlin has unleashed against dissent in recent years. It has intensified after Moscow invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.

The group says the raids and the interrogations are connected to a criminal case that Russia's Investigative Committee launched against the activists earlier this month.

The investigation was opened on the charges of rehabilitating Nazism, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Memorial runs a database of victims of political repressions, and among the names are three people who were convicted in Soviet times over collaboration with Nazi Germany. The group said that authorities are using those names on the list in their case against Memorial.

Oleg Orlov, the group's co-chair whose apartment was among those searched, called the allegations "idiotic" in comments to reporters on Tuesday, before being hauled into a police precinct by a masked police officer in a bulletproof vest.

Later on Tuesday Memorial reported that the authorities launched a separate criminal case against Orlov on charges of repeatedly discrediting the Russian army. It is a criminal offense under a new law that was adopted after Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and is regularly used against Kremlin critics. Orlov faces up to three years in prison, if convicted.

Memorial, one of the oldest and the most renowned Russian rights organizations, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize along with imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties.

5:30 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday condemned British plans to send tank ammunition that contains depleted uranium to Ukraine, saying Moscow would be forced to respond accordingly.

Speaking in London on Monday, Minister of State for Defense Annabel Goldie said some of the ammunition for the Challenger 2 battle tanks that Britain is sending to Ukraine includes armor piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the British decision left fewer and fewer steps before a potential "nuclear collision" between Russia and the West.

Depleted uranium is used in weapons because it can penetrate tanks and armor more easily because of its density and other physical properties, a point that Goldie made.

It is a particular health risk around impact sites, where dust can get into people's lungs and vital organs.

4:02 p.m.: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he would call a high-level meeting of the military organization's main forum for cooperation with Ukraine next month despite objections from Hungary, The Associated Press reported.

The NATO-Ukraine Commission hasn't met at ministerial level for several years. The last meeting was held at a lower level in 2019 in Kyiv, with NATO ambassadors joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some of his Cabinet ministers, about three years before Russia's full-scale invasion.

Hungary and Ukraine are at loggerheads over a language law adopted in Ukraine in 2017 that the nationalist government in Budapest insists stops members of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority from studying in Hungarian. Hungary has routinely blocked NATO-Ukraine Commission meetings since.

3:10 p.m.: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged member countries to speed up increases in defense spending as new figures showed fewer than a quarter of them meeting the alliance's target, Reuters reported.

Stoltenberg said Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year showed that the world had become more dangerous, and NATO allies had to respond by setting and meeting more ambitious military spending goals.

Seven of the alliance's 30 countries met the goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense in 2022, one fewer than in 2021 before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to estimates in the NATO secretary-general's annual report, released on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg said NATO had expected two more members to hit the target but their economies had grown by more than anticipated so their spending came in lower as a share of GDP.

Stoltenberg's 2022 report showed Greece, the United States, Lithuania, Poland, Britain, Estonia and Latvia met that target. Overall defense spending by NATO allies was up 2.2% on the previous year.

NATO leaders are expected to agree a new target at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, and Stoltenberg said 2% of GDP should now be seen as a minimum, with members aiming to move more quickly than they have done to get to higher levels.

2 p.m.: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday that Kyiv has invited China to visit and is waiting for an answer from Beijing, Agence France-Presse reported, as Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted China's Xi Jinping in Moscow.

"We offered China to become a partner in the implementation of the peace formula. We passed over our formula across all channels. We invite you to a dialogue. We are waiting for your answer," Zelenskyy told a press conference, adding that: "We are receiving some signals, but there are no specifics yet."

12:54 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Tuesday in Moscow that Chinese proposals could be used as the basis of a peace settlement in Ukraine, but that the West and Kyiv were not yet ready, according to Reuters.

Putin accused Western powers of fighting "to the last Ukrainian" after talks with Xi in the Kremlin which Putin said showed the growing trade, energy and political ties between China and Russia.

Putin said Monday he viewed the Beijing peace plan with respect.

But China’s proposal has little chance of enactment as proposed because it does not meet key demands from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — namely, that Russia withdraw from Ukraine to honor its internationally recognized borders, including the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 and the eastern Ukrainian regions Russian forces invaded in February of last year.

11:05 a.m.:

10:35 a.m.: The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russia’s invasion.

8:53 a.m.: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived Tuesday in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of support that came as Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said that during his visit, Kishida will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskyy's leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7.”

The ministry statement also said Kishida would express Japan’s rejection of “Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force.”

Kishida is the latest world leader to make the trip to wartime Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

7:10 a.m.: Russia's sustained offensive in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk intensified over the past 24 hours, the military said on Tuesday, according to RFE/RL.

Ukrainian defenders repelled 120 attacks focused primarily on Bakhmut, which has been the focal point of a months-long raging battle that has prompted heavy losses to both sides, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report, adding that Russians also attempted advances in the directions of Avdiyivka, Lyman, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk.

6 a.m.: Russian energy giant Gazprom said Tuesday it had reached a daily record in gas volumes supplied to China through the Power of Siberia pipeline, during a state visit to Russia by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

On Monday, "Gazprom delivered requested volumes and set a new historical record for daily gas supplies to China," the company said in a statement, ahead of formal talks between Xi and Vladimir Putin, Agence France-Presse reported.

5:25 a.m.: Reuters reported that the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church said on Tuesday he will work with Lithuania's government to potentially establish a new branch in the Baltic nation to ensure that believers would no longer be under the sole supervision of Moscow.

"Today a new perspective opens before us along with the possibility to work together for the establishment of (a branch) of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (of Constantinople) in Lithuania," Patriarch Bartholomew told reporters in Vilnius.

Lithuania's government said some of the country's Orthodox believers, including Ukrainian refugees, object to the current organization, which is a unit of the Russian Orthodox Church.

4:35 a.m.:

4 a.m.: Kyiv is waiting to hear if a call will take place between Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Reuters cited Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk as saying in an interview published on Tuesday.

"I don't know, we are waiting for confirmation," Vereshchuk said when asked whether a call between the two leaders will take place. "That would be an important move. They have things to say to each other," Vereshchuk told the Corriere della Sera Italian daily.

3 a.m.:

2:30 a.m.: Ukrainian forces repelled fresh Russian attacks on Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, Kyiv said, as the battle for the ruined city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk continued to exact a heavy toll on both sides as the European Union and the United States pledged to supply Ukraine with badly needed ammunition. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

1:30 a.m.: For more than a year now, Russia's economy has been pummeled by a series of Western sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

So when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the economy would in fact grow in 2023 -- a meager 0.3 percent, but growth nonetheless -- the Washington-based lender raised eyebrows among Russia watchers and economists.

For some, the conclusion suggested something troubling: a whitewash, or a willing parroting of Russian statistics whose credibility was already in question.

The controversy comes as Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears its 14th month and its economy, ranked 11th in the world in 2021, lurches into a new model.

As before, the new evolving model will still be fueled by oil and gas -- but at the same time, it will be hampered by dwindling human capital as younger workers flee the country and a growing proportion of the workforce is killed or maimed in battle.

And the new model is now one dominated by state companies, even more reliant on revenues from oil and gas — increasingly sold at a discount to China and India — and largely isolated from the international financial system.

1 a.m.: An explosion in the Crimean city of Dzhankoi destroyed Russian Kalibr cruise missiles during their railway transportation late on March 20, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Krym Realii media outlet previously reported sounds of explosions in Dzhankoi, which is located in the north of the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.

12:01 a.m.:

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