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Zelenskyy says Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality status; Blinken says U.S. not seeking regime change

This has been CNBC's live blog covering Sunday's updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

During a 90-minute video address with Russian journalists, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia. Any agreement would need to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

"Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point," Zelenskyy said

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sought to clarify President Joe Biden's comments that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."

Speaking in Israel, Blinken said: "As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter."

Biden returned to the White House early Sunday after a three-day trip to Europe.

Russia will likely launch cyberattacks on oil and gas infrastructure, warns cybersecurity firm

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Cybersecurity firm warns of Russian cyberattacks on oil and gas infrastructure

Russian cyberattacks on oil and gas infrastructure are highly likely given the country's history of "tit-for-tat" action against sanctions, said Rob Lee, co-founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Dragos.

"In 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and took Crimea, there was a number of … sanctions levied from the Western financial institutions," Lee said on CNBC's "Street Sign Asia."

"As a result, Russia ended up using cyberattacks back against those financial institutions."

"Now that we're seeing sanctions against oil and gas infrastructure, Nord Stream 2 etc … we absolutely expect to start seeing cyberattacks against oil and gas infrastructure," he said. Germany halted the certification of the Nord Stream 2 in late February — the gas pipeline was designed to bring natural gas from Russia directly to Europe.

An oil pumpjack pulls oil from the Permian Basin oil field on March 14, 2022 in Odessa, Texas.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Such an attack could have an "oversized impact" even if the disruption is not big, due to the high connectivity of the global oil and gas sector, Lee said, citing how a recent attack by Yemen's Houthis on a Saudi Aramco facility resulted in oil prices jumping.

"I think it's really incumbent on these industries to try to be proactive," he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden has warned U.S. corporations to strengthen their cybersecurity practices in light of intelligence reports indicating Russia is looking at potential attacks.

— Eustance Huang

Russia is 'effectively isolating Ukraine' from international sea trade, UK intelligence report says

Local volunteers on the beach pass sandbags from hand to hand in Odesa, southern Ukraine.
Nina Lyashonok | Ukrinform | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Russia has maintained a "distant blockade" of Ukraine's Black Sea Coast and is "effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade," the U.K. Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. saw an increase in Russian naval activity in the Black Sea.

The U.K. intelligence update also said naval forces are continuing sporadic missile strikes against targets in Ukraine.

"The destruction of the Saratov landing ship at Berdyansk will likely damage the confidence of the Russian Navy to conduct operations in close proximity to the coast of Ukraine in the future," it said.

— Abigail Ng

Biden 'shouldn't have said' that Putin cannot remain in power, political analyst says

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Ukraine war reflects a failure of both Russian and U.S. leadership: Professor

President Joe Biden's remarks that Russian leader Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power" is a "misstatement," according to one political analyst, who said it serves to only complicate diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine.

"It was a misstatement on Biden's part certainly to emphasize that the long-term goal might be Putin out of power. It doesn't make it easier to bring the conflict in Ukraine to an end, which should be everybody's first objective," Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Monday.

At the end of a sweeping speech in Poland on Saturday, Biden made an off-the-cuff remark that Putin "cannot remain in power."

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the Royal Castle, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Warsaw, Poland, March 26, 2022.
Aleksandra Szmigiel | Reuters

But the White House appeared to walk back on those remarks over the weekend. A White House official emphasized the president "was not discussing Putin's power in Russia" and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has no strategy to bring about regime change in Russia.

Still, Biden's remarks underscore a sense that the West is not going to go back to business as usual with Russia so long as Putin remains in power — even after the war is over, Walt added.

"But to express that as an objective or hint that might a part of our war aims, I think doesn't improve the diplomatic prospects very much. And in that sense, he shouldn't have said it," Walt said. 

— Sumathi Bala

The Academy honors the people of Ukraine

The Academy held a moment of silence for the people of Ukraine, who are under attack by Russian forces.

"We'd like to have a moment of silence to show our support for the people of Ukraine currently facing invasion, conflict and prejudice within their own borders," an onscreen statement said.

"While film is an important avenue for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water, and emergency services. Resources are scarce, and we — collectively as a global community — can do more," the text continued.

"We ask you to support Ukraine in any way you are able," the statement added.

Directly after the moment of silence came an advertisement for cryptocurrency site Crypto.com. The ad said Crypto.com is matching donations in support of Ukraine.

—Hannah Miao

Zelenskyy says Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality status

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 12, 2022.
Emin Sansar | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia, though an agreement would need to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

"Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point," Zelenskyy said in a 90-minute video address with Russian journalists.

Zelenskyy said that while his government is discussing the use of the Russian language in Ukraine in its talks with Russia, other Russian demands such as demilitarization are not currently on the table. He said Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine have been destroyed during the invasion.

— Ian Thomas, with reporting from Reuters

France's Macron calls for restraint in words and actions on Russia-Ukraine after Biden's comments

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, Italy, October 29, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron called for restraint when speaking about or engaging in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that's the objective," Macron said in an interview with France 3 TV. He said the goal is to use diplomatic means to reach a cease-fire and withdrawal of troops.

"If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things — neither with words nor actions," Macron said.

Macron's comments come after Biden gave an impassioned speech in Poland in which he called Putin a "butcher" and said Putin "cannot remain in power." The White House later attempted to walk back those comments, emphasizing the U.S. does not have a strategy of regime change.

The French president has spoken with Putin on several occasions in diplomatic efforts and said he continues to speak with Putin.

"I wouldn't use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin," Macron said.

— Hannah Miao, with reporting from Reuters

Zelenskyy says West lacks courage to help Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses the participants of the Doha Forum via videolink, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 26, 2022. 
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Western countries lack the courage to help Ukraine, particularly regarding weapons supply.

In a video address, Zelenskyy accused Western governments of being "afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision."

"So, who is in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it still Moscow, thanks to its scare tactics?" he said. "Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine."

The comments came after Biden gave a speech in Poland saying Putin "cannot remain in power" and urged allies to unite. The White House later attempted to walk back those comments, emphasizing the U.S. does not have a strategy of regime change.

— Hannah Miao, with reporting from the Associated Press

Ukraine Energy Ministry advisor says officials working to have Russia removed from IAEA positions after seizures of nuclear power plants

Olena Zerkal, an advisor to Ukraine's energy minister, in a radio interview said Russia might be removed from key positions in the International Atomic Energy Agency due to nuclear terrorism. Zerkal said Ukraine is already working on the issue.

Russia has occupied Ukraine's Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plants.

Minister of Energy German Galushchenko said in a March 8 press release that Ukraine sent official appeals to the IAEA about nuclear energy security in light of Russia's invasion.

The requests included "banning Russia's access to IAEA intellectual and technological resources" and "severing relations with Russian citizens employed in UN structures related to nuclear energy," the March 8 statement said.

The IAEA did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Hannah Miao, translation by NBC freelancer Mariia Ulianovska

Firefighters work at a fuel storage facility hit by cruise missiles in Lviv

Firefighters work to contain the flames at a fuel storage facility in Lviv that was hit by cruise missiles.

Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, in this handout picture released March 27, 2022. 
State Emergency Service of Ukraine | Reuters
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, in this handout picture released March 27, 2022. 
State Emergency Service of Ukraine | Reuters
First responders work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, Ukraine in this handout picture released March 27, 2022. 
State Emergency Service of Ukraine | Reuters
Rescuers work at a site of fuel storage facilities hit by cruise missiles, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lviv, in this handout picture released March 27, 2022. 
State Emergency Service of Ukraine | Reuters

Reuters

Ukraine's intelligence head says Russia is trying to divide Ukraine in two

Ukraine's military intelligence chief has provided an update on Russia's military tactics, saying in a statement that Moscow is seeking to divide the country in two, according to Reuters.

"In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine," Kyrylo Budanov said.

Soon after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, pro-Russian separatists proclaimed two republics in the eastern part of the country: the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic.

On Sunday, Russian state-owned media reported that there could soon be a referendum in Luhansk People's Republic on joining Russia.

— Katrina Bishop and Holly Ellyatt

Blinken: U.S. does not have a strategy of regime change in Russia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks after viewing the "Burma's Path To Genocide" exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, March 21, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | AFP | Getty Images

Blinken said the U.S. has no strategy to bring about regime change in Russia.

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, he sought to clarify comments by Biden, who said Putin "cannot remain in power."

"I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else," Blinken said Sunday.

"As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter."

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith echoed Blinken's comments.

"The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop," Smith told CNN's "State of the Union."

"But I think the full administration, president included, believes that we cannot empower Putin right now to wage war in Ukraine or pursue these acts of aggression," Smith added.

Following Biden's comments Saturday, a White House official also emphasized that the president "was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change," but rather was saying Putin "cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."

— Katrina Bishop and Hannah Miao

Ukraine deputy PM says 2 humanitarian corridors agreed to

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk holds a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 24, 2022. (Photo by PRIME MINISTRY OF UKRAINE/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Prime Ministry of Ukraine | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Two humanitarian corridors have been agreed to in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, according to an NBC News translation.

People will be allowed to evacuate via personal transport along the corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, she said. She added there will also be evacuation buses from Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia. Vereshchuk also said there will be evacuations from Rubizhne to Bakhmut.

— Christine Wang

Russians may be trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in east

Russian forces appear to be trying to encircle Ukrainian troops who are facing separatist fighters in the far east of the country, according to a new intelligence assessment.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence, in its daily update, said on Sunday that Russian units are trying to advance southward from Kharkiv and northward from Mariupol. If successful, those maneuvers could cut off Ukraine's soldiers who are already engaged against separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.

CNBC

CNBC was unable to independently confirm the ministry's report.

Kharkiv and Mariupol are both still in Ukrainian hands but have been blasted for weeks by Russian artillery, killing civilians and defenders alike. Ukraine's government this week refused a Russian demand that it surrender Mariupol.

Russia claims that it isn't using artillery against civilian targets, despite overwhelming evidence that it is.

Meanwhile, tenacious Ukrainian defensive efforts continue to block Moscow's invasion in the north of the country, which would include the long-stalled Russian drive toward Kyiv.

"The battlefield across northern Ukraine remains largely static with local Ukrainian counterattacks hampering Russian attempts to reorganise their forces," the British ministry said.

— Ted Kemp

Ukraine says more than 5,000 people were evacuated from cities today

Evacuees fleeing Ukraine-Russia conflict sit in the body of a cargo vehicle while waiting in a line to leave the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 17, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

A total of 5,208 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors today, a senior official said, fewer than the 7,331 who managed to escape the previous day.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president's office, said in an online post that 4,331 people had left the besieged city of Mariupol.

Reuters

U.S. will provide $100 million in civilian security assistance to Ukraine

Egor, 5, comforts his mother Helen Yakubets who cries in a ballroom, which has been converted to a temporary shelter, at the Mandachi hotel after fleeing from Chernihiv in Ukraine to Romania, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the border crossing in Suceava, Romania, March 20, 2022. Her 18 year old son and husband remain in Ukraine to fight.
Clodagh Kilcoyne | Reuters

The United States will provide $100 million to Ukraine in civilian security assistance, according to the State Department.

The aid will "enhance the capacity of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide essential border security, sustain civil law enforcement functions, and safeguard critical governmental infrastructure," Blinken said in a statement.

The announcement comes after Lviv, a city in western Ukraine near the border with Poland, suffered rocket strikes Saturday.

Darla Mercado

Read CNBC's previous live coverage