Putin touts China's peace plan after talks with Xi; Russian mercenaries say Kyiv is preparing counterattack
This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on March 21, 2023. See here for the latest updates.
It's the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Moscow on Tuesday. Xi and his host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, reportedly held talks for at least four hours on Monday, with more discussions scheduled Tuesday.
The two leaders are focusing talks on deepening their strategic cooperation as well as on the war in Ukraine. Putin said Monday that he would discuss Chinese proposals for a cease-fire with Xi.
On Tuesday, the presidents are also expected to agree to a joint statement on their partnership as well as potential agreements on "different areas of cooperation," one of Putin's assistants said. Analysts will be watching closely to gauge the degree of cooperation and closeness that the leaders have forged during this meeting.
In other news, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries fighting in Ukraine say their forces control nearly 70% of Bakhmut in east Ukraine and will continue to fight until all of the city is captured. The Russian mercenary group also said that Ukrainian forces were preparing to launch a "large-scale offensive" in the coming days.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is on his way to Ukraine for summit talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Kishida's trip makes him the second Asian leader to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded, after Indonesian President Joko Widodo went there last June.
Yellen welcomes IMF deal with Ukraine for $15.6 billion in funding
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen welcomed an International Monetary Fund deal with Ukraine that provides $15.6 billion for a program that will support various reconstruction efforts and finance essential services across the war-weary country.
"This agreement is an important step towards a program and reflects months of collaborative work between the IMF and the Ukrainian government, supported by Treasury and other partners of Ukraine," Yellen said in a statement.
"The United States will stand with the government and the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes in the face of Russia's unjust, unlawful and immoral war," Yellen added.
The IMF said the agreement is a "commitment to support Ukraine and is expected to help mobilize large-scale concessional financing from Ukraine's international donors and partners over the duration of the program."
— Amanda Macias
Zelenskyy discusses additional defense aid with Japan's Kishida in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv.
"It is symbolic that the Prime Minister is making his first visit to Ukraine today, on the day of the anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Ukrainian territories. And he started it from Bucha. We appreciate it very much," Zelenskyy said alongside Kishida.
Zelenskyy described Kishida as a "truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine." He thanked him for Japan providing defense aid and imposing 18 sanctions packages on Russia.
The two leaders also discussed Ukraine's military needs and agreed to keep talking about expanding security cooperation.
— Amanda Macias
Millions in extra funding pledged for ICC work in Ukraine
An international conference in London raised 4 million pounds ($4.9 million) to support the International Criminal Court in its investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine and its work to hold Russia to account, officials said.
Justice ministers from over 40 countries met in London for the war crimes conference days after the global court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of personal responsibility in the abduction of children from Ukraine. Friday's move was the first time the court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
"We share the belief that President Putin and the wider leadership must be held to account," Britain's Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said as he opened the meeting. "Let's make sure that we back up our words with deeds, that we back up our moral support with practical means to effectively investigate these awful crimes."
— Associated Press
Nearly $4 billion needed for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, UN says
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that it needs at least $3.9 billion in 2023 for efforts in Ukraine.
"I am confident that with the support of our local and international partners, we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine," said Denise Brown, U.N. humanitarian coordinator, in a statement.
Brown said that in 2022, the U.N. was able to reach 16 million people, or about a third of Ukraine's population, with lifesaving humanitarian assistance.
"We organized thousands of humanitarian convoys delivering vital supplies such as food, water, medicine, hygiene kits, and winter supplies to war-torn communities and to those who had fled to safer areas. We worked around the clock to order and deliver generators to critical facilities across the country, mainly to hospitals and shelters, to make sure essential services could continue and people would be protected against the cold of the winter. We also provided material and carried out repairs so that people whose homes had been damaged could live with dignity," she added.
— Amanda Macias
U.S. Treasury imposes sanctions on businesses and individuals tied to Iranian drone program
The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the FBI announced sanctions aimed at four entities and three individuals for their involvement in Iran's unmanned aerial vehicle and weapons programs.
The U.S. sanctions come as Washington ups the ante against Tehran for supplying Moscow with weapons for its war in Ukraine.
Here's a look at the new designations:
- Defense Technology and Science Research Center for conducting "defense-related procurement and research and development for Iran," according to the Treasury Department. The company was previously sanctioned by the European Union.
- Asghar Mahmoudi for orchestrating the movement of supplies to Iran.
- Selin Technic Co., which the Treasury Department identified as a front company that helped to facilitate Mahmoudi's business with sanctioned entities.
- Amanallah Paidar for working as a "commercial manager and procurement agent for Iran," according to the Treasury.
- Farazan Industrial Engineering, Inc., which the U.S. alleges helped Iran obtain defense supplies and attempted to acquire European-made engines for drones and surface-to-air missiles.
- Murat Bukey, who the U.S. said is a procurement agent who has backed Paidar.
- Ozone Havacilik Ve Savunma Sanayi Ticaret Anonim Sirketi, who the Treasury alleged helped to "facilitate Burkey's business with Iran."
"Iran's well-documented proliferation of UAVs and conventional weapons to its proxies continues to undermine both regional security and global stability," said Brian Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
"The United States will continue to expose foreign procurement networks in any jurisdiction that supports Iran's military-industrial complex," he added.
— Amanda Macias
Russia says China's proposal could be the basis for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, if West agrees
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Chinese President Xi Jinping "spent a lot of time and put a lot of attention" on ways to implement the Chinese peace plan during their discussions in Moscow.
"We believe that many points of the Chinese peace plan correlate to the point of view of the Russian Federation and many of these points can be adopted in the West," Putin said in a speech, according to a readout of the Russian government.
"However, we do not see the readiness from their side for this," Putin added, referencing Ukraine and its Western allies.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a separate statement that he discussed efforts to boost cooperation between his country and Russia.
"The two countries have enjoyed deepening political mutual trust, convergence of interests, and understanding between the peoples, and have advanced cooperation on trade, investment and energy, and on exchanges at people-to-people and sub-national levels," China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a readout of the two-day meeting.
"President Xi expressed his readiness to work with President Putin to provide guidance and instructions for the bilateral relations and practical cooperation to boost the development and rejuvenation of both countries," the statement added.
— Amanda Macias
The United States inaugurates its first permanent military garrison in Poland
The United States inaugurated its first permanent military garrison in Poland. The U.S. ambassador in Warsaw said it was a sign of NATO's unity "in the face of Russian the aggression."
— Wojtek Radwanski | AFP | Getty Images
U.S. speeds up Abrams tank delivery to Ukraine war zone
The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and could be there before the end of the year. Officials said the M1A1 also will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russia's invasion.
The officials spoke on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been publicly announced. Pentagon officials are expected to make the announcement Tuesday.
The Biden administration announced in January that it would send the tanks to Ukraine — after insisting for months that they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.
— Associated Press
Russia to hold UN meeting on Ukraine kids taken to Russia
Russia plans to hold an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council in early April on what it said is "the real situation" of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, an issue that has gained the spotlight following the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to their abduction.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told a news conference Monday that Russia planned the council meeting long before Friday's announcement by the ICC. Russia holds the rotating presidency of the council in April.
The court said it was seeking Putin's arrest because he "is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of (children) and that of unlawful transfer of (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation."
The announcement of the warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, was welcomed by Ukraine as a first step toward accountability by Russia for crimes following its Feb. 14, 2022, invasion. It was dismissed by Moscow, which is not one of the 123 countries that are parties to the court, calling the action "legally void" and "outrageous."
— Associated Press
At Ukraine’s front, police try to evacuate holdout families
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, about 25,000 people lived in Avdiivka. Despite the shelling, about 2,000 civilians remain, Protsyk said.
For months, authorities have been urging civilians in areas near the fighting to evacuate to safer parts of the country. But while many have heeded the call, others — including families with children — have steadfastly refused.
So it has fallen to police to try to persuade people to leave. A special unit known as the White Angels risk their lives to head into front-line villages and towns, knocking on doors and pleading with the few remaining residents to evacuate.
In early March, the government issued an order for the compulsory evacuation of families with children from combat areas. Under the order, children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. But it currently applies only to Bakhmut, the hard-hit eastern city where fighting has raged for months.
"The compulsory evacuation order is unfortunately only in force in Bakhmut. In Avdiivka, this law is not adopted," said White Angels policeman Gennadiy Yudin. "We're driving around to all the families. We are warning them, we are informing them about the evacuation."
In Bakhmut itself, the situation is so dangerous that civilian evacuations are exceptionally risky.
"I already think that for Bakhmut, it's too late," Protsyk said. "Here in our region, ... if such a decision would be made now, it would be safe."
But without a compulsory evacuation order, the hands of the police are tied. All they can do is use their powers of persuasion.
— Associated Press
Two ships leave under Black Sea Grain Initiative
Two ships carrying 58,200 metric tons of agricultural products left Ukraine's ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk.
The vessels are destined for Egypt and are carrying corn.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia's naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen. The deal was extended over the weekend. Ukraine and the UN pushed for a 120-day extension, but Russia agreed to only 60 days, which would expire in May.
So far, more than 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports since the deal began.
Correction: This post has been updated to correct the extension terms of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
— Amanda Macias
NATO's Stoltenberg warns China against delivering arms to Russia
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned China on Tuesday against supplying lethal weapons to Russia, as leaders of both countries were meeting in Moscow for talks.
"We haven't seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
"China should not provide lethal aid to Russia, that would be to support an illegal war."
What does China want from Russia in return for its help?
One of the big questions to emerge from China's President Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow this week is the degree to which it could help Russia both on the battlefield, and off it — and what price it could extract for doing so.
It's no secret that Russia would like China to help it out while it flounders in an economic and military quagmire brought about by its invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
International sanctions have restricted or cut off Moscow's access to numerous Western markets, while the ongoing war in Ukraine shows all the signs of turning into a bloody stalemate that could, if it loses, cause seismic political change in Moscow.
While he's in Moscow, President Xi and President Vladimir Putin have been discussing the war in Ukraine and China's peace plan, according to the Kremlin's spokesman. Unofficially, however, analysts say the presidents are also likely to discuss ways for China to help Russia without it risking being hit with Western sanctions itself.
For many close watchers of Russia and China's deepening relationship over the past decade, the big question then is this: What could China want in return for helping Moscow?
Read here to find out more: Nothing comes for free: What China hopes to gain in return for helping Russia
— Holly Ellyatt
Ukraine says its forces have repelled Russian advances into Bakhmut
The head of Ukraine's armed forces said they have repelled Russian attempts to advance into the center of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where fighting continues to be intense.
"Assault groups of the enemy try to advance from the outskirts to the center of the city, but the Defense Forces work and destroy them 24/7," the Commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Telegram on Tuesday.
Both Russian and Ukrainian military officials have acknowledged the difficulty of fighting in and around Bakhmut in Donetsk, where battles have been raging for seven months. Russian forces are believed to almost encircle the city to the north, east and south but Ukraine recently vowed to continue defending the city.
Syrskyi said Tuesday that "intensive combat operations" were taking place along the entire front line in eastern Ukraine but that "the defense of Bakhmut continues." There, he said, Russian equipment, manpower and warehouses "are constantly being destroyed."
Russia sees the capture of Bakhmut as a stepping stone to other regional targets such as Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Given the extreme difficulty Russian units and mercenary fighters in the Wagner Group have had in fighting in and around Bakhmut alone, Russia's ability (or appetite) to maintain a wider offensive in the region looks uncertain.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said Monday that "Russian forces made marginal gains in and around Bakhmut amid a reported increase in the tempo of Russian operations around Avdiivka," a town south of Bakhmut and north of Donetsk city.
"Russian forces likely made additional gains in southwestern and northern Bakhmut," the ISW noted. Nonetheless, the ISW assessed "that the overall Russian spring offensive is likely approaching culmination, and Russian forces may be intensifying efforts to make even marginal gains before they lose the initiative in Ukraine."
"It remains possible that Russian advances could prompt Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut and/or Avdiivka although neither appears likely at this time," the ISW noted.
— Holly Ellyatt
Japan's Prime Minister Kishida arrives in Kyiv for talks with Zelenskyy
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, broadcaster NHK said.
Representing one of the rich democracies in the Group of Seven, Kishida will voice support and solidarity with Ukraine following the invasion by Russian forces more than a year ago, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Kishida will convey "his respect for the courage and perseverance of the Ukrainian people standing up to defend their homeland," it said.
Japan will host a G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, and Kishida has previously said that the summit should demonstrate a strong will to uphold international order and rule of law in response to the Ukraine war.
NHK showed footage of Kishida talking to officials as he stood next to a train. He had arrived in Kyiv after boarding a train in the Polish border town of Przemysl.
Kishida will also hold talks with his Polish counterpart before returning to Japan on Thursday, the ministry said.
Kremlin says Xi and Putin discussed China's peace plan for Ukraine
The Kremlin said Tuesday Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had discussed a peace plan China had proposed for Ukraine, and had held a "thorough" exchange of views during talks.
"Obviously, a very thorough exchange of views took place, a serious conversation in the informal part," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
"I will not give any assessments now, we will wait for the press statements of the two heads of state," he said, referring to a joint statement that's expected to be agreed and released by the leaders after further talks on Tuesday.
According to Peskov, Putin and Xi Jinping discussed the 12-point peace plan for Ukraine that China proposed last month, calling for a de-escalation of armed aggression in the country.
Western nations have viewed China's peace plan, and the fact it appears to want a role as a mediator in the conflict, with suspicion given Beijing's alignment with Russia on an ideological level and refusal to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
— Holly Ellyatt
China's Xi invites Putin to visit China this year
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that he's invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit China this year, Russian news agencies reported Tuesday.
"I yesterday invited President Putin to pay a visit to China this year at a convenient time for him, as this year China will host the third international forum under the Belt and Road Initiative. President Putin took part in the previous two forums," Xi said, in comments reported by Russian state news agency Tass.
Xi also invited Russia's Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, with whom he held talks on Tuesday morning, to visit China as soon as possible, news agency RIA Novosti reported. Mishustin reportedly told Xi earlier today that he was grateful for "the great personal attention that you pay to the development of friendship and partnership between Russia and China."
Xi is expected to hold further talks with Putin on Tuesday afternoon, with the leaders expected to sign a joint statement on deepening their strategic cooperation, and possibly other deals designed to extend their economic ties.
— Holly Ellyatt
Xi-Putin summit: What to expect on Day 2
It's the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Moscow. Xi and his host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, are expected to hold more talks today and to sign a number of bilateral agreements.
The presidents reportedly held talks for at least four hours on Monday. Deepening strategic cooperation and the war in Ukraine, and finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, are on the official agenda for discussions.
Analysts will be watching closely for statements and any deals that could be signed today to gauge the degree of cooperation and closeness that the leaders have forged during this meeting.
Before the summit, Putin's assistant, Yuri Ushakov, said Putin and Xi would make a joint statement on their "comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation entering a new era," and then the leaders would also sign a "joint statement on the plan for the development of key areas of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation up to 2030."
"In addition to these two documents, there are many more documents in completely different areas of cooperation - over 10 documents, which are in varying degrees of readiness and will be signed, as they say, on the sidelines of the visit," Ushakov said, according to a report by Russia state news agency Tass.
Ukraine has been noticeably tight-lipped about the Sino-Russian summit ahead of a rumored virtual meeting between Xi and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
— Holly Ellyatt
Japan says Kishida to visit Ukraine, hold talks with Zelenskyy
Japan's foreign ministry confirmed that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is visiting Ukraine.
"As the G-7 [chair], Prime Minister Kishida will directly convey our solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine," a statement from the ministry said.
Kishida will visit Poland on Wednesday after his trip and return to Japan on Thursday, the ministry said.
Japan's prime minister left India after meeting his counterpart there, Narendra Modi. The two leaders discussed stronger ties between their countries — both of them democracies — in the face of rising assertiveness from China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Last month, Ukraine's ambassador to Japan told CNBC he was optimistic Kishida would visit Ukraine before hosting the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima in May.
– Jihye Lee
UK hosts international meeting on supporting Ukraine during war crime investigations
The U.K. held a meeting with more than 40 nations to discuss ways to provide extra support for war crimes investigations in Ukraine, according to a British readout.
The meeting was hosted by U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and the Netherlands Minister for Justice and Security Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius.
Ahead of the meeting, the U.K. proposed funding to offer mental health care for witnesses of war crimes, send U.K. experts to train International Criminal Court investigators and help those ICC workers gather evidence of potential crimes.
The meeting follows ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over potential crimes in Ukraine.
— Amanda Macias
White House spokesman says Putin and Xi are in a 'marriage of convenience'
White House national security spokesman John Kirby called Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping's relationship an alliance based on shared global interests as opposed to true friendship.
"It's a marriage of convenience rather than of affection," Kirby said of Putin and Xi.
Xi dined with Putin at the Kremlin on Monday as part of a three-day visit to Moscow. Beijing has yet to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but has not sent Russia military support, either.
Asked whether the two countries see one another on equal footing, Kirby said: "In terms of that relationship, they truly are their genuine partner."
— Emma Kinery
Zelenskyy thanks EU, U.S. for new arms packages
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the European Union and United States for fresh arms packages, as the Ukrainian military tries to repel a fierce Russian onslaught in the eastern part of the country.
He said a 2 billion euro EU plan to bolster Ukraine's ammunition stores will help with "both immediate supply and production of ammunition," according to an NBC translation of his Telegram post.
Zelenskyy also noted that a $350 million U.S. aid package includes "everything that is really necessary to support our soldiers" in Ukraine.
— Jacob Pramuk
Wagner mercenary group says its forces control about 70% of besieged Bakhmut, but warns of upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive
The Wagner Group said that its forces control nearly 70% of Bakhmut and will continue to fight until all of the city is captured.
The Russian mercenary group also said that Ukrainian forces were preparing to launch a "large-scale offensive."
"At the end of March-beginning of April the enemy plans to launch a large-scale offensive and deliver flank cut-off strikes in order to cut off Wagner PMC units from the main forces of the Russian Armed Forces," Wagner said on its official Telegram channel, according to an NBC News translation.
In a separate letter published to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin warned that Ukraine's counter-offensive could lead to "negative consequences" for Russia.
— Amanda Macias
Putin and Xi meet, calling one another a 'dear friend'
Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Moscow Monday with both leaders exchanging pleasantries ahead of talks on Ukraine and extending cooperation between the nations.
As the two leaders met for an informal meeting before talks begin behind closed doors, Putin called Xi his "dear friend" as he welcomed him to Russia. He also praised China's growth under Xi's leadership, saying Russia was "slightly envious" of China's swift development, in comments reported by Reuters.
Putin said China had taken a "balanced approach" to the international situation and said the leaders would discuss recent suggestions by China to find a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine.
For his part, President Xi responded that Putin was also his "dear friend" and said he was pleased to be in Moscow for talks.
— Holly Ellyatt
Putin-Xi talks are ongoing after four hours, Russian state media says
Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were ongoing after four hours, Russian state media said, according to an NBC News translation.
The discussions are part of Xi's three-day state visit to Russia. The leaders were expected to talk about strengthening economic and political ties, as Ukraine and its allies watch whether China will move to provide military support to Moscow.
— Jacob Pramuk