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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 23

A Ukrainian soldier rests on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 22, 2023.
A Ukrainian soldier rests on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 22, 2023.

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

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

9:25 p.m.: Progress toward European Union membership is the only way to counter Russian influence in the Western Balkan region, North Macedonia's foreign minister said after talks on Thursday with his German counterpart, who promised support, Reuters reported.

All six Western Balkan states — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages of the EU accession process as they recover from the wars of the 1990s.

North Macedonia was granted candidate status for EU membership in 2004, but the process stalled over a dispute with Greece over its name, which was resolved in 2018. An ongoing disagreement with Bulgaria over constitutional changes has further held up negotiations.

North Macedonia's Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said he and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock discussed Russian influence.

Pledging support, Baerbock said: "You have my word: we will not leave you out in the rain."

8:12 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday told European leaders that delays sending fighter jets and long-range missiles could extend the war, an EU official told Agence France-Presse.

Zelenksyy addressed a summit of his EU counterparts via video link from a Ukrainian train after visiting war-ravaged areas along the front line with Russian forces.

The official said the Ukrainian leader welcomed an EU plan agreed this week aimed at sending Kyiv 1 million artillery shells over the next 12 months.

But Zelenskyy insisted that delays in supplying modern jets and long-range missiles could drag out the conflict, the official said.

He also urged the leaders to impose more sanctions on Moscow, speed up work on Ukraine's EU membership bid, and increase support for a peace plan proposed by Kyiv.

7:22 p.m.: Russia hopes that a deal to provide gas supplies to China through the planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline can be reached before the end of the year, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Moscow is eyeing the 2,600 km pipeline, which would have a capacity of 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year, as a way to replace lost exports to Europe.

President Vladimir Putin discussed the plan with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Moscow summit this week, and Novak said on Tuesday that instructions had been given to gas company Gazprom to reach a deal as soon as possible.

"Now the contract terms are being finalized between Gazprom and the Chinese company CNPC. A feasibility study is already underway, the design of the gas pipeline route through the territory of Mongolia," TASS quoted Novak as saying Thursday.

Russia is in a hurry to clinch the deal but Beijing is well-placed to drive a hard bargain on price. Experts say China is not expected to need additional gas supply until after 2030.

A first Power of Siberia pipeline is up and running, and Novak confirmed it would deliver 22 bcm of gas to China this year and reach full capacity of 38 bcm by 2027.

6:10 p.m.: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday dismissed Russian complaints about Britain's announcement that it will send Ukraine ammunition containing depleted uranium.

Moscow on Wednesday warned of a serious escalation of the Ukraine crisis if London gives Kyiv the armor-piercing rounds.

"NATO allies are following international rules and international law in everything they do in their support for Ukraine," Stoltenberg told Agence France-Presse when asked about the British plans and Russian complaints.

"The dangerous thing is the war, which is taking thousands of lives," he said at the operational launch of a new fleet of NATO-EU air-refueling planes at a Dutch airbase.

British junior defense minister Annabel Goldie confirmed on Monday that the UK would provide Ukraine with the depleted uranium rounds. The heaviness of the metal allows shells to more easily penetrate steel.

5:20 p.m.: Finland President Sauli Niinisto in a ceremony on Thursday signed legislation making his country part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Reuters reported.

Finland last year sought to join the military alliance in response to Russia's war in Ukraine, and legislation incorporating NATO's founding treaties was passed in parliament in Helsinki on March 1.

Hungary and Turkey, the only NATO members that have yet to ratify Finland's membership, have both signaled that they will soon do so.

4:32 p.m.: Local volunteer Yevhen Tkachov risks his life in Ukraine's Donetsk region to bring water to front-line communities under attack by Russian forces. He says he supplies drinking water to about 100 residents in Chasiv Yar, a town near the besieged city of Bakhmut. Despite the shelling, he also brings water to local animals, including stray cats and dogs. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

3:10 p.m.: The U.S. military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget, which would modernize the force in Asia and around the world, The Associated Press reported.

“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, which added to concerns that China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.

2:30 p.m.:

2:20 p.m.: Russian forces are increasingly using drones in aerial battles over the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut, but the threat of fighter jets and helicopters remains and more Western weapons are needed to counter them, Reuters reported, quoting Ukrainian soldiers.

In a small hamlet west of Soledar, a town to the north of Bakhmut now under Russian control, troops from an anti-aircraft unit in Ukraine's 10th Mountain Assault Brigade were planning to use drones to attack Russian positions.

"Recently we have noticed a lot of activity of enemy intelligence drones," a member of the unit who goes by his call sign "Kamin", meaning "Stone", told Reuters on Thursday. He declined to give his real name.

Drones are an increasingly important part of Ukraine's military plans with the full-scale war well into a second year. While Russia has far greater resources - both in terms of soldiers and equipment - Kyiv believes drone innovation is one area where it can begin to catch up with Moscow.

"Now it is a war of drones," Kamin said. "The Russians used reconnaissance drones, but now they are also using more drones that are carrying weapons."

2:10 p.m.: Finland President Sauli Niinisto in a ceremony on Thursday signed legislation making his country part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Reuters reported.

Finland last year sought to join the military alliance in response to Russia's war in Ukraine, and legislation incorporating NATO's founding treaties was passed in parliament in Helsinki on March 1.

Hungary and Turkey, the only NATO members that have yet to ratify Finland's membership, have both signaled that they will soon do so.

1:45 p.m.:

1:15 p.m.: Residents who have remained in the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiyivka are now deciding to move somewhere safer as danger grows. The badly battered municipality has seen growing Russian artillery shelling. As the enemy makes small gains in areas around Avdiyivka, Ukrainian soldiers, medics, and police remain committed. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has this report.

12:50 p.m.: Ukrainian troops, on the defensive for four months, will launch a long-awaited counterassault "very soon" now that Russia's huge winter offensive is losing steam without taking Bakhmut, Ukraine's top ground forces commander said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The remarks were the strongest indication yet from Kyiv that it is close to shifting tactics, having absorbed Russia's onslaught through a brutal winter and prevented Moscow from claiming its first victory since last August.

Russia's Wagner mercenaries, trying to capture Bakhmut in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, "are losing considerable strength and are running out of steam," Kyiv's ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a social media post.

"Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk," he said, listing Ukrainian counteroffensives last year that proved turning points in the war, recapturing swathes of land.

12:20 p.m.:

12:05 p.m.: The Turkish parliament's foreign affairs commission approved a bill ratifying Finland's bid to join NATO, Reuters reported Thursday, citing state broadcaster TRT Haber.

This effectively takes Helsinki another step toward membership of the trans-Atlantic pact.

Parliament's general assembly still needs to approve the bill and is expected to do so before it closes in mid-April, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14.

But Erdogan held off approving the NATO membership bid of Sweden, which Ankara says has not gone far enough in cracking down on people Turkey considers terrorists. The three countries signed a pact on the issue last year.

11:45 a.m.: Britain’s Prince William paid tribute on Thursday to Poles who lost their lives in past wars and expressed gratitude to the nation for what it is doing today to provide humanitarian and military support to Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

The heir to the throne’s visit to Poland underscores Britain’s support for both Ukraine and Poland, an ally on the front line of efforts to help refugees displaced by Russia’s war and to assist the Ukrainian military in fighting off the invasion.

William laid a wreath in Poland’s national colors, white and red, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and bowed his head solemnly. The memorial honors Poles who lost their lives in wars including World War II, when Polish and British soldiers were allies.

A note on the wreath that he left read: “In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

He later headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Andrzej Duda, who has been a prominent ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. Duda’s office said their talks focused on humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

11:30 a.m.:

11:15 a.m.: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday visited the southern region of Kherson, where he made a pledge to local officials and villagers to repair damage caused by Russia's invasion, Reuters reported.

The visit, to a region where Ukraine pushed back occupying Russian forces in a successful counteroffensive late last year, appeared intended to underline the country's resilience 13 months after Russia's large-scale invasion.

It was Zelenskiy's second trip outside Kyiv this week, following a morale-boosting visit to eastern Ukraine on Wednesday in which he handed out medals to troops near the frontline city of Bakhmut and praised their valor.

10:50 a.m.: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Thursday he would seek an explanation from Hungary about why it is delaying its parliament's ratification of Sweden's NATO bid but not Finland's, according to Agence France-Presse.

"I'm going to ask why they are now separating Sweden from Finland. These are signals we have not received before, so I'm absolutely going to raise this with (Viktor) Orban today," Kristersson told public broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

10:30 a.m.:

10:10 a.m.: The prosecutor general of Ukraine, Andriy Kostin, and the registrar of the International Criminal Court, Peter Lewis, signed a cooperation agreement on the establishment of an ICC country office in Ukraine, according to a statement released by the ICC Thursday.

"We are very grateful for the cooperation, support and assistance we have received from the Government of Ukraine and look forward to strengthening our cooperation in the future,” Lewis said in the statement.

Kostin, signing on behalf of Ukraine, said: “I firmly believe that the opening of the ICC country office in Ukraine marks the beginning of a new chapter in our close cooperation with the Court. This is just a start, a strong start, and I'm convinced that we will not stop until all perpetrators of international crimes committed in Ukraine are brought to justice, independently of their political or military position.”

9:45 a.m.: A former New Zealand soldier who co-founded a charity to help struggling veterans has been killed in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported, quoting local authorities.

Ukrainian authorities confirmed the death of Kane Te Tai and the New Zealand embassy in Poland was trying to find out more details, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

Te Tai in 2017 helped register the No Duff Charitable Trust to support veterans in crisis. The trust said in a statement that it was with “immense sadness” it was sharing the news that Te Tai — who went by the code name Turtle in Ukraine — had been killed in action.

“Without him, No Duff wouldn’t exist,” the trust said. “Kane had a huge heart and loved helping people. His loss leaves a huge hole in many lives from here to Eastern Europe.”

The trust said it was in close contact with Te Tai’s family to ensure his body was returned to New Zealand.

9:20 a.m.:

8:50 a.m.: Hungary would not arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he entered the country, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday that Hungary would have no legal grounds to make the arrest.

Hungary signed and ratified the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant on Friday accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility.

When asked if Putin would be arrested if he came to Hungary, Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a briefing that the Rome Statute had not been built into the Hungarian legal system.

8:35 a.m.: Russian leaders should be put on trial for the invasion of Ukraine even if they cannot be arrested and brought to court in person, Kyiv's top prosecutor said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, speaking to Reuters during a stopover in The Hague where the International Criminal Court is based, said that a planned tribunal for the crime of aggression should hold so-called trials in absentia.

While the ICC can prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine, it cannot prosecute the crime of aggression due to legal constraints. International courts very rarely hold trials in absentia and the ICC's rules state specifically that an accused suspect shall be present during trial.

International support is growing for the creation of a special tribunal that would prosecute Russian leaders for the 13-month-old invasion itself, considered by Ukraine and Western leaders to be a crime of aggression.

8:20 a.m.:

8:05 a.m.: Russia threatened to escalate attacks in Ukraine after the British government announced it would provide to Ukraine a type of munition that Moscow falsely claims has nuclear components, The Associated Press reported.

The British defense ministry on Monday confirmed it would provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

Such rounds were developed by the U.S. during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, including the same T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its push to break through a stalemate in the east.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to create nuclear weapons. The rounds retain some radioactive properties, but they can’t generate a nuclear reaction like a nuclear weapon would, RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist said.

That didn’t stop the Russians from offering a full-throated warning that the rounds were opening the door to further escalation. In the past, they have suggested the war could escalate to nuclear weapons use.

7:50 a.m.: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday he would discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a state visit to China next week, with a view to reaching a lasting peace there, Reuters reported.

Madrid announced Sanchez' state visit to China on Wednesday evening saying it followed a formal invitation from the Chinese leader, who is trying to position himself as a mediator in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Spain, a NATO member whose foreign policy is closely aligned with the United States, is a staunch ally of Ukraine and will assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union in July.

7:40 a.m.:

7:25 a.m.: Among the 27 EU countries, Hungary has announced it will not take part in the supply of ammunition to Ukraine, citing its commitment to peace, but said it will not prevent other members from doing so by blocking the deal, The Associated Press reported.

Last month, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the bloc is partly to blame for prolonging Russia’s war in Ukraine by sanctioning Russia and supplying Ukraine with money and weapons, rather than seeking to negotiate peace with Moscow.

According to various estimates, Ukraine is firing 6,000-7,000 artillery shells daily, around a third of Russia’s total, one year into the war. EU leaders are set to endorse a deal aimed at sending to Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery shells within the next 12 months to help the country counter Russia’s invasion forces.

Leaders will also discuss the possibility of topping up with an extra 3.5 billion euros the European Peace Facility — a fund being used to reimburse member countries that provide weapons, ammunition and military support to Ukraine.

In parallel, the European Defense Agency would aggregate demands from member states to restock, and lead a fast-track procedure for direct negotiations with industrial providers of ammunition in Europe.

7:10 a.m.: Ukrainian forces over the past day repelled scores of attacks along the front line in the east, where Russian troops have been keeping up the pressure on the city of Bakhmut, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday, quoting the Ukrainian military.

Russians kept their pressure on other settlements in Donetsk, such as Lyman, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk, the military said, adding that "the enemy is losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons, and military equipment." The claims could not be independently verified.

General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said on Thursday that the Russians' relentless push in Bakhmut is beginning to take its toll on their strength and that Ukrainians are preparing to take advantage of their enemy's perceived weakness "very soon."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Moscow's indiscriminate attacks on civilians shows Russia is not interested in peace and accused Russia of "bestial savagery" for targeting civilians.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear to be interested in immediate peace and was engaged "in a war of attrition."

In an interview with The Guardian, the NATO chief said Putin was “reaching out to authoritarian regimes like Iran or North Korea and others to try to get more weapons.” He said Russia was boosting its military production capacity and cautioned that Ukraine's Western allies must be prepared to supply Kyiv with weapons, ammunition, and military equipment for a long period of time.

“President Putin doesn’t plan for peace. He’s planning for more war,” Stoltenberg said.

6:55 a.m.:

6:40 a.m.: European Union leaders will discuss the war in Ukraine with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday, including food security and sanctions, and also endorse a plan to ramp up the supply of artillery shells to Kyiv, Reuters reported, quoting diplomats and officials.

Guterres will be a guest at an EU summit in Brussels, days after the renewal of a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey on the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

That will be discussed over lunch with Guterres before the U.N. secretary-general takes his leave and EU leaders get an update on the war from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy via video link, officials said.

"We will, as always, reaffirm our unwavering commitment to assist Ukraine," declared Charles Michel, president of the European Council of EU leaders.

The leaders will give their blessing to a plan - agreed by foreign ministers on Monday - to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year by digging into stocks and making a landmark move into joint procurement.

6:25 a.m.: The spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians said that Russia's Orthodox Church shared responsibility for the conflict in Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

"The church and the state leadership in Russia cooperated in the crime of aggression and shared the responsibility for the resulting crimes, like the shocking abduction of the Ukrainian children," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said Wednesday at a conference in Vilnius.

The comments are a rebuke of Russian Patriarch Kirill, whose blessing for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has splintered the Orthodox Church. Russian authorities are using the church as an "instrument for their strategic objectives," Bartholomew said.

6:15 a.m.:

5:50 a.m.: Any attempt to arrest President Vladimir Putin after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the Kremlin chief would amount to a declaration of war against Russia, his ally Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant last Friday, accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It said there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility.

Former President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian media that the ICC, which countries including Russia, China and the United States do not recognize, was a "legal nonentity" that had never done anything significant.

Any attempt to detain Putin, though, would be a declaration of war, said Medvedev, who serves as deputy chairman of Putin's powerful security council.

The Kremlin says the ICC arrest warrant is an outrageously partisan decision, but meaningless with respect to Russia. Russian officials deny war crimes in Ukraine and say the West has ignored what it says are Ukrainian war crimes.

Relations with the West, Medvedev said, were probably at the worst point ever.

5:17 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Senate committee Wednesday that the United States would encourage other countries to extradite Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits following an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, Agence France-Presse reported.

"I think that anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations," Blinken said.

He was responding to questions from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who said the United States should arrest Putin if he steps on U.S. soil.

The United States is not part of the court in The Hague, with the previous Republican administration of Donald Trump imposing sanctions on the then ICC prosecutor for probing U.S. military actions in Afghanistan.

Blinken said he did not expect Putin to travel to the United States. Russia is part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which holds its summit in November in San Francisco, but it is highly unlikely the United States would invite Putin.

4:10 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping has left Moscow after a three-day visit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that was ripe with symbolism as they set their sights on shaping a new world order.

But what results actually came from the meeting?

On Tuesday evening, Xi and Putin signed a joint statement after holding centerpiece talks at the Kremlin where they trumpeted China's "positive role" and "objective, unbiased position" on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The two leaders unveiled a package of agreements detailing plans for future economic ties and closer cooperation between each country's state media, while criticizing the West by taking aim at the United States, NATO, and the new AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

But, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, the talks stopped short of delivering the kind of decisive deals on key economic issues that Moscow would need to help it weather growing pressure from Western sanctions, highlighting the limits of Chinese support and a growing power imbalance between the two countries that is skewed in Beijing's favor.

3:10 a.m.: The tally after one year: two banks and four tycoons.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has cited Ukraine as an example of confiscating sovereign and private Russian assets within its borders to urge Kyiv's allies to do the same and contribute to a war recovery effort estimated to cost more than $700 billion. But Ukraine's experience seizing these assets has proven problematic and slow-moving, a probe by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, found.

Out of a list of 905 Russian state assets, only two -- Prominvestbank and the International Reserve Bank -- have been transferred to the National Investment Fund of Ukraine's control since the campaign of confiscations began in May 2022, three months after Moscow launched its large-scale invasion of the country.

2:10 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russia may be using T-54/55 tanks from storage to compensate for major armored vehicle losses.

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line and made marginal territorial gains within Bakhmut and continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and on the outskirts of Donetsk City.

Ukrainian officials stated that Ukrainian forces continue to clear an area on the east bank of the Dnipro River.

1:08 a.m.: Ukraine's Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office reported Wednesday that the former head of the State Property Fund had been charged with embezzling more than $13.6 million in state funds, The Kyiv Independent reported.

The former official allegedly set up a criminal organization that illegally funneled funds from several state-owned companies in 2019-21.

Those companies include Ukraine's most powerful chemical enterprise in Odesa and one of the world's largest producers of titanium raw materials, United Mining and Chemical Company, according to the report.

From 2019 to 2022, the State Property Fund was headed by Dmytro Sennychenko. Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine wrote that its sources in law enforcement had confirmed the suspect was Sennychenko.

12:02 a.m.: Canada is extending a support program meant to help Ukrainians and their immediate families to become temporary residents of the North American country and easily apply for work or study permits, the Canadian immigration ministry said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program, which was launched shortly after the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, was set to expire next week.

Ukrainians and their family members of any nationality will now have until July 15 to apply for a visa under the program, the immigration ministry said in a statement. Anyone holding such a visa will have until March 31, 2024, to travel to Canada and those already in the country will also be able to extend or adjust their temporary status during that time.

Some information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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