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Russian troops leave Chornobyl; UK spy chief says Putin ‘massively misjudged’ war

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

Russian forces are continuing to hold their positions and carry out shelling strikes around Kyiv, according to British intelligence, despite promises from Moscow this week to scale back its military activity near the Ukrainian capital.

The head of the U.K.'s intelligence and security agency said in a speech Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "massively misjudged" the situation in Ukraine, and that the Russian leader's advisors were afraid to tell him the truth about what was happening on the ground.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said Thursday that Russia had agreed to allow a humanitarian corridor to open in the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by Russian shelling and is facing a severe humanitarian crisis.

Anonymous targets Western companies still doing business in Russia

Online "hacktivist" collective, Anonymous, is now targeting Western companies that are still doing business in Russia.
Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Anonymous, the "hacktivist" collective, has a new target in its "cyber war" against Russia. This time, it's Western companies that are still doing business there.

A post on March 21 from a Twitter account named @YourAnonTV stated: "We call on all companies that continue to operate in Russia by paying taxes to the budget of the Kremlin's criminal regime: Pull out of Russia!"

The tweet gave companies 48 hours to comply. The threat also included a photo with logos of some 40 companies, including household names such as Burger King, Subway and General Mills. A second batch of target companies was published on March 24, which included Emirates airline, the French gardening retailer Leroy Merlin and the essential oil company Young Living.

However, some companies that were mentioned refuted Anonymous' claims.

For example, tire firm Bridgestone and Dunkin' said before they were targeted by Anonymous, they had already publicly announced that they were pulling business from Russia. Three targeted oil field service companies — HalliburtonBaker Hughes and Schlumberger — had also issued announcements previously. Others soon announced they were cutting ties with Russia, including the Canadian oilfield service company Calfrac Well Services and the sanitary product maker Geberit Group

Even so, a quick exit may be complicated for franchises. That's the position that targeted companies like Burger KingSubway and Reebok's owner Authentic Brands Group, said they are in.

— Goh Chiew Tong, Monica Buchanan Pitrelli

Ukraine regains control of some villages near Chernihiv, Britain says

Maxar satellite multispectral image shows burning homes in residential area of Chernihiv, Ukraine on March 16, 2022.
Satellite image (c) 2022 Maxar Technologies | Getty Images

Ukrainian forces have retaken two villages along one of the main supply routes between Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The villages are Sloboda and Lukashivka, which are south of Chernihiv, the ministry said in its daily update.

"Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and north east of Kyiv," the defense ministry said.

"Both Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas," it added.

Military developments are difficult to confirm as the situation on the ground in Ukraine changes constantly.

— Abigail Ng

Reuters reports Japan's decision to keep using Russian gas was made weeks ago

Japan's prime minister, Fumio Kishida, decided weeks ago that he would not abandon a Russian gas project, Reuters reported, citing three sources.

The report said Kishida in early March told top officials that he wouldn't risk Japan's energy security, and would stay in the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas project.

On Thursday, the prime minister told parliament that "it is not our policy to withdraw" from that Russian LNG project.

Japan has targeted Russian banks and oligarchs with sanctions, but doesn't have much leeway to cut off gas from Russia. The Asian country became more reliant on Russian energy after it shut down nuclear reactors following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

— Abigail Ng

Americans are being targeted and detained in Russia, U.S. warns

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury is seen during the game against the Indiana Fever at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on September 6, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Michael Hickey | Getty Images

U.S. citizens are being targeted and detained by Russian forces in the former Soviet Union and in Ukraine, the U.S. State Department warned, urging all Americans to leave both countries.

"Russian government security officials in both Russia and in Ukraine may be singling out U.S. citizens based on their nationality," State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated. "All US citizens in Russia and Ukraine should depart immediately.All US citizens in Russia and Ukraine should depart immediately."

U.S. officials are still working to free WNBA star Brittney Griner, who plays for Russian basketball club UMMC Ekaterinburg, after Russian authorities arrested the two-time Olympic gold medalist at a Moscow-area airport last month and accused her of transporting drugs.

— Dawn Kopecki

U.S. officials circle globe to keep pressure on Putin as ruble rises

Economist Adewale "Wally" Adeyemo reacts as he testifies before the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing to be Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo | Reuters

Senior U.S. officials fanned out around the world this week to press other leaders to join or continue to pressure on Moscow as the war in Ukraine enters its fifth week, and the initial economic shock to Russia seems to be ebbing.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo met with senior officials in London, Brussels and Paris, and will finish the week in Berlin; the deputy national security adviser for international economics, Daleep Singh, pressed Indian officials in New Delhi, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Ukraine war with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Morocco.

Daleep Singh, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for international economics, speaks about sanctions against Russia during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, February 22, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The effort comes as the initial impact of unexpectedly tough sanctions on Russian banks, oligarchs and companies begins to wear off somewhat, and the United States considers its next economic steps to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

— Reuters

U.S. readies $800 million weapons package for Ukraine

US soldier of 2nd Cavalry Regiment walks on a runway at Kuchyna Air base on February 17, 2022, as US troops arrived in Slovakia for the planned NATO drill Saber Strike 22.
Vladimir Simicek | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. military is quickly working to get the bulk of more than $1.1 billion in military assistance delivered to Ukraine in the next two weeks, downplaying reports that shipments have slowed, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby said that the $350 million arms package that was pledged on March 14 arrived in Ukraine and the colossal $800 million weapons package that was announced by President Joe Biden on March 16 is set to arrive within the next 2 weeks. Kirby declined to elaborate on how the shipments were getting to Ukrainian forces citing operational security concerns.

"The Ukrainians want this stuff and they want it like yesterday. We understand that we know time is not on their side, we don't think it's on our side either," Kirby said.

— Amanda Macias

Russians give Chornobyl nuclear plant back to Ukraine, IAEA says

A worker walks in front of new protective shelter over the 4 nuclear reactor Unit at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Kiev region, Ukraine, on 26 April, 2019.
Vladimir Sindeyeve | NurPhoto | AP

Russian troops that took over the Chornobyl nuclear power plant last month have transferred control back to Ukraine, the International Atomic Energy Agency said, citing information from Kyiv.

Multiple convoys of Russian troops in the area have also moved north toward Kremlin-allied Belarus, Ukraine told the IAEA.

The Russian forces, which had held the nuclear facility since Feb. 24, returned control of the Chornobyl plant "in writing" to Ukrainian personnel, the agency said in a press release.

The IAEA added that it "has not been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation while being in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone."

Kevin Breuninger

Biden says Putin may have put military advisors under house arrest

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about reducing energy prices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin "seems to be self-isolating" from his own military advisors as Russia's invasion of Ukraine falters.

"There's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers," Biden added, though he cautioned, "I don't want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don't have hard evidence."

The president's comments followed a decision this week by the White House to declassify U.S. intelligence indicating that Putin feels he has been misled by his military leaders, who told him that Ukrainians would greet invading Russian soldiers as "liberators" and predicted Kyiv would fall in a matter of days.

Biden's suggestion that Putin has imprisoned some of his advisers lines up with reports by several prominent experts on the opaque Kremlin bureaucracy.

Specifically, the leader of the Russian foreign intelligence unit responsible for Ukraine, Colonel-General Sergei Beseda, and his deputy, Anatoly Bolyukh have reportedly been placed under house arrest.

This kind of information is notoriously difficult to confirm, however, given the strict controls on what media can report in Russia and the Kremlin's refusal to answer questions about Putin's inner circle.

— Christina Wilkie

Ukrainian soliders help a displaced family cross a river outside Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier carries a baby as he helps a displaced family to cross a river on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Ukrainian displaced Karina Tkachenko carries her baby after he was helped by Ukrainian servicemen to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022. 
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian soldier Andriy carries the baby of a displaced family to help to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022.
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian displaced Karina Tkachenko carries her baby after he was helped by Ukrainian servicemen to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022. - Russian forces are repositioning in Ukraine to strengthen their offensive on the Donbass, Nato said March 31, 2022, on the 36th day of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as shelling continues in Kharkiv (north) and Mariupol (south). (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP) (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian serviceman Andriy (L) helps Ukrainian displaced Karina Tkachenko to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022.
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images
Ukrainian displaced Karina Tkachenko carries her baby after he was helped by Ukrainian servicemen to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022. - Russian forces are repositioning in Ukraine to strengthen their offensive on the Donbass, Nato said March 31, 2022, on the 36th day of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as shelling continues in Kharkiv (north) and Mariupol (south). (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP) (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP | Getty Images

— Getty Images

Russian airstrikes over Ukraine double despite de-escalation claim, U.S. Defense official says

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a warehouse after it was hit by Russian shelling on March 28, 2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images

Russian airstrikes over Ukraine have doubled in the past 24 hours, despite the Kremlin's claim that it would reduce military operations in the country, a senior U.S. Defense official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share new Pentagon reporting, said Russian jets flew 300 strike missions over Ukraine yesterday.

"We certainly haven't seen any indication that any of these troops are going back home or that they're being taken away from the fight forever. What we continue to believe is that these troops will be refit and put back into Ukraine," the official said, adding that less than 20% of Russian troops near Kyiv have moved elsewhere in the country.

The rise in strikes comes as Russian forces on the ground face a slew of logistical challenges.

"We have continued to