U.S. sends 'kamikaze drones' to Ukraine; Pentagon weighs permanently stationing more troops in Europe

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

Russian attacks on Ukraine are continuing after Moscow said it would reduce its military activity in some parts of the country.

Russia said Tuesday that it would cut back its military activity near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv — but the U.S., the U.K. and Ukraine have expressed skepticism over Moscow's pledge to scale back the fighting.

Russian and Ukrainian delegates held face-to-face talks in Istanbul yesterday, with Ukraine's delegation calling for an international agreement under which other nations would guarantee Ukraine's security.

Russia continues shelling, holds positions near Kyiv despite Moscow's promises to scale back

"Significant" Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued on the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, and Russian troops are still holding positions close to Kyiv, despite promises to the contrary from Moscow, the United Kingdom said Thursday.

"Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units," the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence briefing.

Chernihiv is about 90 miles (145 km) north of Kyiv and 40 miles (64 km) south of the Russian border.

A Russian defense official said Wednesday that Moscow would "drastically" reduce military activity near Chernihiv and the capital of Kyiv, NBC News reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged caution about believing Moscow's promises. The Russian Defense Ministry's press office was not immediately available to provide comment to CNBC.

The British ministry said heavy fighting "will likely take place in the suburbs" of Kyiv in the coming days. Since last week, Ukrainian forces began to report retaking towns close to the capital.

The situation around the capital is fluid, and those Ukrainian claims are difficult or impossible to verify.

"You do see the Ukrainians trying to take advantage of opportunities and roll back the Russians where they can," NBC News Global Security Reporter Dan De Luce said.

Heavy fighting continues in Mariupol in the south, but the U.K. Ministry said Ukrainian defenders are still holding the city center. Mariupol has been largely destroyed by Russian artillery and missiles.

— Ted Kemp

Putin may have been misinformed about Ukraine, U.S. intelligence shows

According to newly declassified U.S. intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin feels he was misled by military leaders, who withheld details about the botched invasion of Ukraine out of fear.

"We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth," said White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.

As a result, there's been "persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership," she told reporters.

Putin's top advisors lie to him about progress of invasion and impact of sanctions, says Pentagon
Putin's top advisors lie to him about progress of invasion and impact of sanctions, says Pentagon

A U.S. official told NBC News earlier that Putin didn't know his military was using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, a sign that there was a "clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian President."

When Putin actually realizes how badly his military is done in Ukraine, there might be "a real potential here for escalation," said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon would say how American intelligence agencies learned what Putin was and was not being told. Releasing intelligence strongly suggests the U.S. has a mole in Putin's inner circle.

— Goh Chiew Tong, Christina Wilkie

U.S. sends 100 killer drones to Ukraine, following Zelenskyy’s request for additional aid

The U.S. will be sending 100 killer drones to Ukraine in a colossal weapons package that President Joe Biden approved earlier this month, officials have confirmed.

The so-called "kamikaze drones" will be deployed to Ukraine soon, according to the Pentagon. It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's request to U.S. lawmakers for additional military equipment.

"We've heard the Ukrainians and we take that request very seriously," said Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of Defense for international security.

U.S. sends 100 'Switchblade' drones to aid Ukraine
U.S. sends 100 'Switchblade' drones to aid Ukraine

It's not clear how often the U.S. military has used the killer drones on the battlefield and AeroVironment, the U.S.-based firm that manufactures the weapon, declined to comment on the arms transfer.

The Switchblades are equipped with cameras, navigation systems and guided explosives. They can be programmed to automatically strike targets that are miles away or can loiter above a target until engaged by an operator to strike.

— Goh Chiew Tong, Amanda Macias

Congress hears sirens wail as Ukraine legislators visit

U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is flanked by Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as he speaks during a meeting between members of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and members of the Ukrainian Parliament at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 30, 2022. 
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

As members of the Ukrainian parliament were pleading for aid on Capitol Hill, an air raid siren blared from one of their cell phones — a wrenching alert from the war-torn country back home.

One of the visitors reached into her bag, pulled out the phone and let the siren wail in the halls of Congress.

"Right now, you hear the sound?" said Anastasia Radina, a member of the Ukrainian Rada.

"This is the air raid alarm in the community where my son is staying right now," she said at a press conference this week after meeting with members of Congress. "I need you all to hear that."

— Associated Press

Pentagon weighs stationing more troops permanently in Eastern Europe

US soldiers walk to board a plane from Pope Army Airfield in Fort Bragg, North Carolina on February 14, 2021 as they are deployed to Europe.
Allison Joyce | AFP | Getty Images

The Pentagon is considering sending more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe on a permanent basis, citing significant changes in the security environment.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the issue is under discussion, but no decisions have been made.

Earlier in the day, the top U.S. commander in Europe told lawmakers that the U.S. and NATO military footprint in Europe and specifically in the Baltics has "got to change."

"Certainly this is an opportunity as a result of this senseless act on behalf of Russia, to re-examine the permanent military architecture that exists not only in Eastern Europe, but in our air policing activity in aviation and in our standing naval maritime groups," U.S. Air Force Tod Wolters said before the House Armed Services Committee.

— Amanda Macias

Satellite images show Mariupol before and after destruction

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show total destruction from above in Mariupol. Here is a before and after view.


Maxar satellite imagery of homes and buildings before the invasion, Mariupol, Ukraine on June 21, 2021
Maxar Technologies | Getty Images


Maxar satellite imagery of destruction of homes and buildings after the invasion, Mariupol, Ukraine on March 29th, 2022.
Maxar Technologies | Getty Images

— Maxar Technologies via Getty Images

U.S. will provide $500 million in direct budgetary aid to Zelenskyy's government

President Biden has warned Putin that the U.S. and its allies are willing to impose swift and severe costs on Russia.
Courtesy: The White House

President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the United States plans to provide his government with $500 million in direct budgetary aid, according to a White House readout of Biden's secure call with the Ukrainian leader.

In the world of international assistance, direct budgetary aid is relatively rare. More often nation-to-nation aid comes in the form of already paid-for things, like food or weapons or subject matter experts, and monetary loans. Direct budgetary aid, on the other hand, generally comes with few strings attached, the closest thing to a cash gift from one government to another.

The monthlong Russian invasion of Ukraine has severely hampered Kyiv's ability to collect tax revenue and remain operational, making this kind of cash aid especially important.

Congress recently approved a separate, more than $13 billion package of supplemental aid for Ukraine. But nearly all of that money is already committed to specific things, like refugee housing, defensive arms and medical supplies.

--- Christina Wilkie

U.K. aims to stop sanctioned oligarchs from maintaining their planes and yachts

The superyacht Phi owned by a Russian businessman in Canary Wharf, east London which has been detained as part of sanctions against Russia.
James Manning | Pa Images | Getty Images

The U.K. announced new legislation that aims to prohibit maintenance on aircraft or yachts belonging to sanctioned Russian elites and their businesses. 

The new measures come after Britain designated more than 1,200 individuals and entities close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There is no doubt that Putin and his elite have been surprised by the strength of our sanctions," U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote in a statement.

"We will continue to ramp up the pressure so long as Russian troops are in Ukraine, targeting not only the businesses of oligarchs but also their assets and international lifestyles," Truss added.

— Amanda Macias

Top U.S. commander in Europe says Putin believed that Russians supported a Ukraine invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2022.
Sergey Guneev | Sputnik | Reuters

America's top commander in Europe gave his best assessment as to why Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

"I think he felt like he had the popular support of the citizens of Russia. I also felt like he was attempting to take advantage of fissures that could have appeared in NATO as a result of the post-Afghanistan environment," U.S. Air Force General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Tod Wolters said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

General Tod Wolters, commander, U.S. European Command, testifies during the House Armed Services Committee hearing titled National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in Europe, in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

"I also think it has to do with his age and its efficacy. All those combined together put him in a position where he elected to go at this time," Wolters said when asked why Putin chose Feb. 24 to invade Ukraine.

"The overriding variable in my view is the fact that he believes that he has popular support from his citizens," said Wolters, who also serves as commander of U.S. European Command.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy says he and Biden discussed a new sanctions package

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses the members of Norwegian parliament via video link, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 30, 2022. 
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hourlong secure call with U.S. President Joe Biden finished just after noon, the White House said.

Ten minutes later, the Ukrainian leader tweeted that he and Biden had discussed a number of topics, most notably new sanctions on Russia and specific materiel that Ukraine needs.

The White House has been working on a package of new sanctions to impose on Russia that would be aimed at making it harder for Russia's military to get parts and material.

Christina Wilkie

Russia's battlefield performance in Ukraine 'baffling,' top U.S. commander in Europe says

General Tod Wolters, U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee March 29, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Win Mcnamee | Getty Images

America's top commander in Europe described Russia's largely stalled military campaign and overall battlefield performance in Ukraine as "baffling."

"There was a degree of miscalculation and it's evident by the performance of the Russian military up to this point," U.S. Air Force General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Tod Wolters said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

"This one has been baffling," said Wolters, who also serves as commander of U.S. European Command. He added that the U.S. military should "be prepared to take a really good look" at Russia's military force posture.

Since the Kremlin's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces have been increasingly beset by logistical and command and control issues, as well as morale problems.

— Amanda Macias

The art of war: Murals show support for Ukraine

Artists around the world created murals to show support for Ukraine as Russia's invasion continues.

Fresco murals by French street artists Kelu Abstract and Jeff Aerosol are displayed on the wall of a Parisian building on March 14, 2022 in Paris, France.
Chesnot | Getty Images
A resident walks past mural painting by Bulgarian artist Stanislav Belovski depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin holding his own body in Sofia, on March 15, 2022.
Nikolay Doychinov | AFP | Getty Images
A woman walks pass the mural "No to war" by muralist Maximiliano Bagnasco in Buenos Aires on March 5, 2022.
Juan Mabromata | AFP | Getty Images
A mural of Putin, Hitler, and Stalin with a slogan " No More Time" is seen on the wall next to the PKM Gdansk Jasien train station.
Mateusz Slodkowski | Lightrocket | Getty Images
A resident looks at new street art mural has appeared in Cardiff depicting Ukraine's capital Kyiv under siege on March 01, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales.
Huw Fairclough | Getty Images

To see more murals from around the world, click here.

— Adam Jeffery

100 'killer drones' included in latest U.S. arms package for Ukraine

AeroVironment Switchblade 600 Drone
Courtesy: AeroVironment

American officials told lawmakers that the U.S. will send killer drones to Ukraine at the country's request.

"We have committed 100 switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems to be delivered in the most recent package of presidential drawdown," U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week that the drones would arrive in Ukraine soon, but declined to elaborate further.

There are two variants of the weapon, the Switchblade 300 and the 600, manufactured by U.S.-based firm AeroVironment. It was not immediately clear which variant of the weapon the U.S. deployed to Ukraine.

The 300 version is designed to strike small targets. It can fit in a rucksack, weighs a little over 5 pounds and has a range of 10 miles. The 600 variant of the weapon is designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles. It weighs slightly more than 120 pounds and has a range of more than 40 miles.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy and Biden plan to speak by phone today

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends an interview with some of the Russian media via videolink, as Russia?s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 27, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | via Reuters

President Joe Biden is slated to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy around 10:45 a.m. ET, the White House said in a statement.

The two leaders are planning to "discuss our continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression."

The call follows Russia's claim Tuesday that it would "dramatically reduce&quo