This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Monday, March 28. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Tuesday, March 29, as Russia's invasion continues.
President Joe Biden on Monday said he was voicing his indignation with the barbaric invasion of Ukraine and not a U.S. policy change with his remark last weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
“I'm not walking anything back,” Biden said Monday from the White House. “The fact of the matter is I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man, which is just brutality.”
Biden noted that he felt that outrage after meeting with refugees in Warsaw, Poland.
“I want to make it clear, I wasn't then nor am I now articulating a policy change,” he said. “I was expressing moral outrage that I feel. I make no apologies for it."
The president also said he doesn't believe his comments complicate the diplomatic efforts to end the war or escalate the hostilities.
"What complicates the situation at the moment is the escalatory efforts of Putin to continue to engage in carnage,'' Biden said, "the kind of behavior that makes the whole world say, 'My God, what is this man doing?'''
Biden was asked whether he would meet with Putin and did not directly answer yes or no, saying it would be conditional on what the Russian leader would want to discuss. Putin has not called for a meeting between them.
-- Rebecca Morin
►A “massive” cyberattack knocked Ukraine’s national telecommunications provider Ukrtelecom almost completely offline Monday in what network monitors called its most severe outage since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
►Retaliatory visa measures against "unfriendly countries" are being developed in Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
►Irpin, a sprawling Kyiv suburban city of 60,000, has been liberated from Russian forces, Mayor Alexander Markushin said. "We understand that our city will be attacked more; we will protect it. Irpin is Ukraine," he said.
►Kyiv schools reopened for online learning Monday. Teachers were told not to overwhelm students already under strain from the war.
►The Oscars took 30 seconds of silence for Ukraine, beginning with a tribute from Ukrainian-born Mila Kunis.
Pentagon official says Russian ground forces no longer advancing
Russian troops have ceased making advances on the ground toward the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and appear to have refocused their aims in eastern Ukraine, a senior U.S. Defense official said Monday.
The Russians appear intent on cutting off Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, according to the official, who discussed intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity. The Russian move could also be aimed at establishing authority there to gain leverage in negotiations for a cease-fire or peace deal, the official said.
Russia has been backing separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014. Last week, a high-ranking Russian military official claimed the "main tasks" of the invasion that began Feb. 24 were successfully completed.
"The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas," Sergei Rudskoy said.
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The Pentagon official, however, said Ukrainian forces continue to thwart Russian efforts to dominate the country’s airspace. Russian pilots have been averse to risk, fearing attacks from Ukrainian air defenses. Most of Russia’s air-launched cruise missile attacks have come from aircraft operating from the safety of airspace over Russia or Belarus, the official said.
Ukrainian resistance has held in most major cities, the official said. Mariupol in the south, however, continues to face heavy bombardment, and the mayor of the port city on Monday called for evacuation of the remaining 160,000 residents.
Mercenaries to replace Russian combat losses
The Pentagon's expectations that Russia would replace its combat losses in Ukraine with troops based in other countries appear to have become reality.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said up to 1,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor that has been accused of human rights abuses, will most likely be sent to fight in Eastern Ukraine.
Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, London’s defense attaché in Washington, said in a statement that Russia has likely been forced to reprioritize Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of its operations in Africa and Syria. The Pentagon had also indicated Russia would draw from its troops elsewhere.
In December, the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and its founder, Dmitry Utkin, for fomenting violence and committing human rights abuses in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.
Possible poisoning linked to early peace talks
Three members of the delegations attending the peace talks in Kyiv on March 3-4, including Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, experienced symptoms consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons, the Netherlands-based Bellingcat investigative journalism outlet reported.
Abramovich and two senior members of the Ukrainian negotiating team developed symptoms that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal, citing Western experts who looked into the incident, said it was hard to determine whether the symptoms were caused by a chemical or biological agent or by electromagnetic-radiation attack.
A spokesperson for Abramovich, a longtime Putin adviser and owner of the British soccer team Chelsea FC, confirmed to the BBC that he developed the symptoms.
The reports did not determine who would have been responsible. The Journal reported claims the alleged poisoning was orchestrated by hardliners in Russia who wanted to sabotage the talks.
Kremlin says 'no significant breakthroughs' in peace talks
The Kremlin tamped down expectations Monday that face-to-face talks with Ukraine negotiators scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday would result in a deal to end Russia's deadly, destructive invasion.
"Regrettably, we cannot say there have been any significant achievements or breakthroughs so far," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. But he said the face-to-face meeting in Turkey could allow for "more focused, tighter and meaningful" talks.
The talks come as the mayor of Mariupol called for evacuation of the remaining 160,000 residents, saying the city is virtually without food, water, power and other supplies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's latest appeal for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, saying it would be counterproductive until Ukraine and Russia are close to agreeing on key issues.
Navy sending jets to Germany to strengthen NATO's eastern flank
The Pentagon is sending six Navy jets that specialize in suppressing enemy air defense to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday. The Navy EA-18 Growlers are based at Whidbey Island, Washington, and will be sent to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, Kirby said. They will not fly missions in Ukraine against Russian forces. The deployment will include about 240 pilots, crews and maintainers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin deployed the warplanes to keep “options open,” Kirby said.
“They’re not being sent because of some sort of acute threat that was perceived or some specific incident that happened,” Kirby said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Zelenskyy says Ukraine would consider declaring neutrality
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told independent Russian journalists that his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia. That pact would include keeping Ukraine nuclear-free, he said. But Zelenskyy said adopting a neutral status would need to be guaranteed by third parties and put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw – within a few months once Russian troops leave.
Russia almost immediately banned Zelenskyy's remarks from being published. Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency regulating communications for Moscow, issued the ban Sunday and said there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, including “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”
Russia recently passed a law threatening up to 15 years of prison time for anyone publishing information that goes against Moscow's narrative about the war.
Russian Nobel winner suspends publication of Novaya Gazeta
The independent Russian publication Novaya Gazeta shut down Monday after getting its second warning from the state censuring agency Roskomnadzor. The publication was called out Monday after conducting a banned interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
"After that, we will suspend the publication of the newspaper online and in print until the end of the 'special operation on the territory of Ukraine,'" the publication said on Twitter. The Kremlin refers to its invasion of Ukraine as a special operation. Novaya Gazeta was previously ordered to remove articles about the war from its website.
Dmitry Muratov, the publication's founder and editor, was a co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Muratov was singled out for his "efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."
Mariupol mayor calls for complete evacuation
Russian shelling of the southern port city of Mariupol has made living there impossible and the remaining 160,000 civilians should be evacuated, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said. He said the city, home to more than 400,000 people before the war began, has virtually no water, heat, electricity, supplies or communication. The Ukraine government estimates that 5,000 civilians have been killed by Russia's siege of the city that began March 1. Over 200 of those killed were children, the government says.
Boychenko told the local UNIAN news agency that 40% of Mariupol's residential buildings are now uninhabitable.
"The city is encircled and that circle is of course shrinking," he said.
The Ukraine Foreign Ministry tweeted: "While #Mariupol besieged and bombed, people fight to survive. The humanitarian situation in the city is catastrophic. #Russian Armed Forces is turning the city into dust."
Russian stocks slide on first day of full trading since invasion
The Moscow Exchange dipped 2.2% on Monday, the first day that trading of all stocks was allowed since the war began. Some breakers were in place to limit volatility.
The war started Feb. 24 and Russian stocks crashed by about one-third the next day. Since then trading has been nonexistent or limited. Foreigners remain banned from trading until Friday.
On Monday, shares of Sberbank, Russia's largest bank, fell almost 5%. CEO Herman Gref, a close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin for decades, was added to the U.S. sanctions list last week. Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, was down 1.7%.
Ukraine war threatens food supply in Arab world
From Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen, millions of people in the Middle East whose lives were already upended by conflict, displacement and poverty are now wondering where their next meals will come from.
Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in the Middle East rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and the sunflower seed oil that is used for cooking.
Even before the war in Ukraine, people in countries across the Middle East and North Africa were not getting enough food. Now with trade disruptions spurred by the conflict, more commodities are becoming either unaffordable or unavailable.
“Put simply, people cannot afford food of the quality or quantity that they need, with those in conflict- and crisis-affected countries ... at greatest risk,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
Refugees fleeing Ukraine
Just one month since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 3.8 million refugees have been forced to flee the country, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
An additional 6.5 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine and over 12 million more have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war.
Humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially.
"Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet their basic needs including food, water and medicines," the agency announced in a bulletin. "The delivery of lifesaving aid remains challenging, with a lack of safe humanitarian access."
–Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russian ground forces no longer advancing: March 28 recap