Ukraine latest updates: US says no evidence Russia pulling back

Russia-Ukraine news from March 31: US President Joe Biden says there is ‘no clear evidence’ that Russia is fulfilling a pledge to scale back operations around Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden announces his budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, US.
US President Joe Biden is 'sceptical' of Russia's pledge to pull back troops from Kyiv [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
  • Russia says “unfriendly” countries must begin paying for its gas in roubles from Friday but Kremlin decree indicates a workaround for foreign currency purchases.
  • NATO says Russian forces in Ukraine are not withdrawing but regrouping, adding it expects “additional offensive actions” to come.
  • Kyiv says Moscow’s offensive has “practically destroyed” almost all of Ukraine’s defence industry.
  • US President Joe Biden says he is sceptical Russian troops are pulling back from Kyiv.


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These were the updates for March 31:

Not clear if Russian convoy to Kyiv exists anymore: Pentagon

The Pentagon has said it was not clear that Russia’s convoy of military vehicles to Kyiv, which once stretched some 60 kilometres (40 miles), even exists anymore after failing to accomplish its mission.

“I don’t even know if it still exists at this point … They never really accomplished their mission,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby.

US says Russia’s demand of roubles for gas is sign of ‘desperation’

US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand that foreign buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles is a sign of economic and financial “desperation” caused by Western sanctions.

European nations, some of which rely heavily on Russian gas, have rejected the demand and Germany’s government said it amounted to “blackmail.”

Russia says it will open humanitarian corridor from Mariupol

The Russian defence ministry has said it would open a humanitarian corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday, Tass news agency reported.

It quoted Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, the director of the Russian National Center for Defense Management, as saying Moscow was acting on a request that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had made to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

No member states have signalled gas supply emergencies: EU Commission

Germany and Austria both implemented the “early warning phase” of their emergency plans as “precautionary steps,” a European Commission spokesperson has said.

No EU country has yet signalled it is facing a supply emergency, the spokesperson added. The “early warning” alert enhances a country’s monitoring of supply, requiring companies involved in the gas market to share information with authorities on a daily basis.

Ukraine says 148 children killed in war

Russian forces have killed 148 children during shelling and air raids, fired 1,370 missiles and destroyed 15 Ukrainian airports since the start of the invasion on February 24, Ukraine’s defence ministry has said.

More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, the statement added.

Russia’s Gazprombank to set up payments for gas in roubles

Russia’s Gazprombank has said it would provide conditions to allow convenient payments for Russian gas in roubles.

Gazprombank told TASS news agency it has the right technology and experience to quickly fulfil a state order to switch to roubles for gas payments which President Vladimir Putin signed earlier in the day.

US wants Ukraine’s borders to be respected as before invasion: Pentagon

The United States wants Ukraine’s borders to be respected as before the invasion was launched, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has said.

“We want Ukraine’s sovereignty, all of their sovereignty, their borders as it was before the end of February to be respected,” he told Fox News.

Russia cannot be constructive partner at G20 table: Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Russia cannot be a constructive partner in the G20, which is composed by most of the world’s largest economies, because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Trudeau said G20 leaders were having conversations about Russia’s presence in the G20 because the Ukraine invasion has “upended economic growth for everyone around the world and can’t possibly be a constructive partner.”

‘No clear evidence’ Putin pulling back forces: Biden

In his first public remarks on Western assessments about Kremlin tensions over the war in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said, “There is no clear evidence that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is pulling all of his forces out of Kyiv.”

“I’m a little sceptical. It’s an open question whether he’s actually pulling back,” he said, adding that more troops appeared to have been sent to the Donbas area.

Russian forces bombarded areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv on Wednesday, after pledging to scale back operations in those zones to promote trust between the two sides.


Biden says Putin may have put some advisors ‘under house arrest’

Biden has said Putin may be “isolated” and could have placed some of his advisors under “house arrest.”

“He seems to be self-isolating and there’s some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers. But I don’t want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don’t have that much hard evidence,” he said.

UK sanctions Russian media, targets disinformation

The United Kingdom has announced sanctions on 14 more Russian entities and people, including state media organisations behind RT and Sputnik.

“Putin’s war on Ukraine is based on a torrent of lies,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

“Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives.”

Biden announces release of 1 million barrels of oil to control energy prices

The US president has ordered the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve for six months, in a bid to control energy prices that have spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The bottom line is if we want lower gas prices we need to have more oil supply right now,” Biden said. “This is a moment of consequence and peril for the world, and pain at the pump for American families.”

He also invoked the Defense Production Act to encourage the mining of critical minerals for batteries in electric vehicles as part of a broader push to shift toward cleaner energy sources.

The US president warned the oil industry not “to sit on record profits” during the current price surge, adding that he wanted “to lay a new foundation for true and lasting American energy independence.”

Russia trades accusations with Ukraine on drifting Black Sea mines

Russia has accused Ukraine of laying hundreds of mines near its coast and said some were drifting into open waters in the Black Sea, a day after Kyiv said Moscow was responsible for planting mines.

Russia said Ukraine had “created a direct mine threat to transport and cargo ships of all Black Sea countries”.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Russia was planting naval mines in the Black Sea as “uncontrolled drifting ammunition”, turning them “into a de facto weapon of indiscriminate action”.

Aid convoy nears besieged Mariupol but needs guarantees: Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on all sides to agree on the exact terms for the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol as a convoy of buses approaches the besieged city.

“For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time and the duration,” ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said.

“It’s desperately important that this operation takes place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,” he said.

IAEA chief lands in Kaliningrad for talks with Russia

UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi has arrived in Kaliningrad for talks with senior Russian officials on ensuring the safety of nuclear facilities.

The visit follows a trip to Ukraine, where he inspected a nuclear power plant and conferred with the energy minister and other officials.

All parties must agree to terms of humanitarian pauses: UN

The United Nations Humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine has called on all parties to agree to “the exact terms of humanitarian pauses”, including the route, the start time, and the duration, to ensure the safe delivery of assistance and the evacuation of civilians.

“These efforts have regrettably not yet succeeded, as we have been informed repeatedly that the safety and security of aid convoys and civilians could not be guarantee,” Osnat Lubrani said in a statement.

The official added the UN on Thursday had delivered supplies for thousands of people in the encircled city of Sumy, where shelling and fighting cut off power and water.

Russian councillor charged over ‘false information’ on troops

A local councillor in Siberia has been charged with sharing “false information” about army activity in Ukraine, national media reported.

A Russian court’s press service said Petrenko had been charged over Telegram posts that spread “knowingly false information about the use of Russian armed forces to destroy civilian infrastructure and Ukraine’s civilian population,” RIA Novosti state news agency reported.

Russia has passed legislation making disseminating “false” information about its troops a punishable crime. Petrenko has been charged with using his official position to do so and could face up to 10 years in jail.

UK, allies to send more military aid to Ukraine

The United Kingdom and its allies have agreed to send additional lethal weapons to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia’s invasion, British defence minister Ben Wallace has said.

“There’ll be more lethal aid going into Ukraine as a result of today. A number of countries have come forward either with new ideas or indeed more pledges of money,” Wallace told reporters.

He said this included longer-range artillery, ammunition, and more anti-aircraft weapons.

A Russian victory in Ukraine will put other countries in peril: Polish official

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski has told Al Jazeera that allowing Russia to make gains in Ukraine will encourage Moscow to adopt an aggressive stance towards Eastern European countries.

“Putin is not attacking other countries today because he doesn’t have adequate resources. He certainly would be willing to attack if he knew he would succeed,” Jablonski said in an interview at the Doha Forum.

The official added that in recent days members of the Russian parliament discussed the “de-Nazification” of six more countries, including Poland.

“If we allow Russia to win this war, they will regroup, they will resupply and they will be attacking more countries and starting more wars,” Jablonski said.

Russia to give $1.2bn to help domestic airlines and flights

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will provide domestic airlines with 100 billion roubles ($1.25bn) in support to help them deal with the consequences of international sanctions.

In televised remarks at the end of a meeting with representatives of airlines and aircraft manufacturers, Russia’s president said the government subsidies would be disbursed this year.

The world’s 11th-largest aviation market is under severe pressure as the United States and Europe on one side and Russia on the other have each closed their airspace to the other’s airlines.

US slaps sanctions on Russian tech firms

The United States has hit a series of Russian tech firms with sanctions, including the nation’s largest chip maker.

“We will continue to target Putin’s war machine with sanctions from every angle, until this senseless war of choice is over,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said.

Mikron, the largest Russian manufacturer and exporter of microelectronics, was among 21 entities and 13 individuals listed for penalties, including the blocking of any property in the US.

‘Peace is worth more than diamonds’: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denounced Belgium’s diamond trade with Russia in an address to the Federal Parliament in Brussels.

“I think that peace has much more worth than diamonds, than the deals with Russia, than the Russian boats in the ports, more than the Russian oil and gas. So help us,” he said.

Speaking via video conference, Zelenskyy once again pleaded for a no-fly zone over his country and accused Moscow of blocking humanitarian corridors in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Russia announced a ceasefire to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and the Red Cross said seventeen buses were heading to the besieged city from Zaporizhzhia.

Russia to expand ban of EU leadership after sanctions

Russia has said it will expand the list of EU figures banned from entering the country following Western sanctions over Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine.

“The restrictions apply to the top leadership of the European Union including a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military structures as well as the vast majority of members of the European Parliament promoting anti-Russian policies,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russia has been hit with a barrage of sanctions targeting its economy, as well as travel bans and asset freezes on government figures, including President Vladimir Putin.

White House confirms release of a record 1 million barrels of oil

President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday the release of a record million barrels of oil a day for about 180 days from US strategic stockpiles, in an attempt to dampen soaring prices.

“The president will announce the largest release of oil reserves in history, putting one million additional barrels on the market per day on average – every day – for the next six months,” the White House said in a statement, confirming earlier reports.

“This record release will provide a historic amount of supply to serve as bridge until the end of the year when domestic production ramps up.”

Germany, UK reject Putin’s roubles for gas demand

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner has said Berlin will continue paying for energy imports from Russia in euros, adding it would look into the technical details linked to Moscow’s latest decree requiring to pay for gas in roubles.

Lindner said there could be “no political blackmail” linked to the question of gas imports.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was monitoring the implications for the European market of President Vladimir Putin’s demand.

Asked if there were any circumstances in which the UK would pay in roubles for Russian gas, the spokesman told reporters, “That is not something we will be looking to do.”

Timeline: Russia’s siege of Mariupol

Russia’s brutal assault on the strategically important, southeastern port city has left tens of thousands of people trapped, trying to evade the shelling while confronting dwindling food, water and medicine supplies.

Read more here.

A view shows an apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Mariupol has been the scene of some of the war’s worst suffering [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Russia’s Gazprombank is the intermediary for rouble gas payments, Putin order says

President Vladimir Putin’s decree says that foreign buyers of Russian gas will have to use special accounts at the country’s Gazprombank to pay for the import of the energy source, the Reuters news agency reports.

A foreign buyer is now obliged to transfer foreign currency to one special, so-called “K”, account, Reuters reported, citing the order. Gazprombank would then buy roubles on behalf of the gas buyer to transfer roubles to another special “K” account.

Gazprombank would then transfer the rouble funds of the foreign gas buyer to Gazprom’s rouble accounts. The bank can open such accounts without the presence of a foreign buyer’s representative, according to Reuters.

Vilnius film festival’s boycott of Russian cinema sparks debate

Lithuania’s most prestigious film festival has cancelled all Russian film screenings.

While many have welcomed the move, others are concerned such measures will harm artists more than the Kremlin, which is facing a wave of cultural backlash over the war in Ukraine.

Read more here.

Ukrainian state operator says most Russian forces have left Chernobyl plant

Ukraine’s state nuclear operator says many of the Russian forces who had been occupying the Chernobyl nuclear plant have left the facility and are heading for the Belarusian border, leaving just a few on the site of the defunct plant.

“The occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the exclusion zone, have set off in two columns towards the Ukrainian border,” Energoatom said in a statement.

It added Russian forces had also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where many of the workers who service the Chernobyl facility live.

A view of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
The Chernobyl plant was seized by Moscow’s forces within 24 hours of Russia launching its invasion [File: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

‘It’s a miracle’: Poles open their homes to Ukrainian refugees

Newcomers feel blessed by kindness, while Polish hosts say they are enjoying the experience but could benefit from more state support.

Read more here.

NATO asks Denmark to deploy 800 soldiers to Latvia

NATO has asked Denmark to send a battalion of 800 soldiers to Latvia to bolster the transatlantic military alliance’s eastern flank, the country’s defence ministry says.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said this week that Denmark was ready to send a battalion to the Baltic states at NATO’s request.

Such a move would require parliamentary approval.


Kremlin decree indicates foreign currency can still be used to buy gas

A Kremlin decree, published by state media, says “unfriendly countries” can continue to pay for natural gas in foreign currency through a Russian bank that will convert the money into roubles.

It sets out that a designated bank will open two accounts for each buyer, one in foreign currency and one in roubles.

The buyers will be able to pay in foreign currency and authorise the bank to sell that currency for roubles, which are placed in the second account, where the gas is formally bought.

Germany, France reject Russia’s roubles for gas demand

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Western countries will continue paying for Russian gas in euros or dollars despite the Kremlin’s threat to cut off supplies not paid for in roubles.

“We looked at the contracts for the gas deliveries,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

“They say that payments are made in euros, sometimes in dollars … and I made clear in my conversation with the Russian president that that will remain the case,” he added, citing his talks by phone with Putin on Wednesday.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said separately said Paris also rejected Russia’s demand.

An employee is seen walking past a part of Gazprom's Power Of Siberia gas pipeline at the Atamanskaya compressor station outside the far eastern town of Svobodny, in Russia's Amur region
Russia is a major exporter of gas to European states [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Putin says Russian gas must be paid for in roubles from Friday

Putin says he has signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from Friday, and contracts would be halted if these payments were not made.

“In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open rouble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments will be made for gas delivered starting from tomorrow,” the Russian leader said in televised remarks.

“If such payments are not made, we will consider this a default on the part of buyers, with all the ensuing consequences. Nobody sells us anything for free, and we are not going to do charity either – that is, existing contracts will be stopped.”

Russian forces ‘regrouping’ before new Donbas offensive, Ukraine says

Russia is “regrouping” its forces in Ukraine to intensify its offensive in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces has said.

The eastern territories are already partly controlled by Russian-backed separatists who seized swaths of territory in the Donbas in early 2014.

“The main efforts of the enemy are focused on maintaining the occupied borders, preparing for the resumption of offensive operations in certain areas and establishing full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” the department said on Facebook.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

OPEC sticks to modest boost in oil despite war jitters

OPEC and allied oil producers, including Russia, have decided to stick to a modest increase in the amount of crude they pump to the world despite Western pressure to step up production as a result of the war in Ukraine.

The group, known as OPEC+, said it would add 432,000 barrels per day in May, as it works to gradually restore production cuts made during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s slightly up from 400,000 barrels in previous months.

The alliance has been unmoved by pleas from oil-consuming countries to pump more oil as energy prices soar, fueling inflation worldwide. High prices have helped Russia – the world’s largest exporter – offset some of the impacts of Western sanctions.

In pictures: Mariupol theatre before and after

The following images highlight the scale of destruction caused when Russian forces struck a theatre in Mariupol that was being used as a makeshift bomb shelter.

The city’s local government, citing witnesses, has said about 300 people were killed in the attack on March 16.

Russia has denied attacking the theatre and targeting civilians amid its offensive.

Russian troops not withdrawing but regrouping, NATO says

Russian forces in Ukraine are not withdrawing but regrouping, NATO’s secretary-general has said in response to Moscow’s announcements about a scaling down of military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

“According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

“At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities. So we can expect additional offensive actions, bringing even more suffering,” he added.

Two killed in rocket attack on military unit, fuel depot in Dnipro: Governor

Russian rockets have struck a military facility in Ukraine’s central-eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, killing two people and destroying the site’s administrative building and fuel depot, according to the region’s governor.

Valentyn Reznychenko said in a post on Telegram that five people were also wounded in the attack.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Russia has destroyed most of Ukraine’s defence industry, Zelenskyy adviser says

Russia has “practically destroyed” almost all of Ukraine’s defence industry, an adviser to Zelenskyy has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych made the remarks in a video address during which he also welcomed the terms of a proposed peace deal as a win for Kyiv.

He said that under a peace agreement discussed with Russia during talks earlier this week, Ukraine would be protected from future threats by international security guarantees that Russia would not be able to veto.

“This is an ideal agreement that improves our position several times over in a fundamental way,” Arestovych added.

Norwegian PM urges end to offensive during talks with Putin

Norway’s prime minister says he called on Putin to end Russia’s offensive during talks between the pair by phone.

“I asked the president urgently to end the war in Ukraine, pull out Russian troops and secure humanitarian access,” Jonas Gahr Stoere said.

The two men had an hour-long conversation, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a statement by Stoere’s office.

Norway, a NATO member, shares a border with Russia in the Arctic.

UK unveils new sanctions on ‘shameless’ Putin ‘propagandists’

The United Kingdom has announced a new wave of sanctions against “Russian propagandists and state media”.

The measures are aimed at 14 individuals and entities – including TV presenter Sergey Brilev and Kremlin-funded TV-Novosti, which owns the Russia Today news channel – and follow several previous rounds of sanctions over Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine.

“Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

“We will keep on going with more sanctions to ramp up the pressure on Russia and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table.”

At least 148 children killed amid Russia’s offensive, Ukrainian official says

At least 148 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion five weeks ago, the country’s human rights ombudswoman has said.

At least 232 other children have been wounded amid Moscow’s onslaught, Lyudmila Denisova said on Facebook.

She added that the actual number of casualties is not possible to verify due to ongoing hostilities in various parts of Ukraine.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures provided.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Putin likely ‘not fully informed’ on Ukraine, former UK ambassador says

Tony Brenton, the United Kingdom’s former ambassador to Russia, says it is “likely” that Putin has not been “fully informed” on the state of Russia’s offensive by his aides.

“Putin has been in withdrawal from the details of day-to-day government in Russia for the last two years, while he’s been worrying about COVID,” Brenton told Al Jazeera.

“So I think the likelihood is that he’s not been fully informed on the Russian military situation,” he added.

“And the subordinates around him – he has a rather limited number of people who have access to him – are almost certainly quite cautious about giving him the full details about how bad Russians are doing militarily, although he obviously knows enough that he has substantially altered Russia’s war aims.”

IAEA to monitor occupied nuclear plants, Ukrainian state operator says

The UN’s nuclear watchdog will establish online monitoring missions to Ukraine’s defunct Chernobyl and active Zaporizhzhia nuclear plants, the head of the country’s state nuclear company has said.

Energoatom CEO Petro Kotin said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should use its influence to ensure Russian nuclear officials do not interfere in the operation of the two nuclear plants, both of which are being occupied by Russian forces.

“[The IAEA] can influence this and they must influence this, and this question will be discussed,” Kotin said. He added he could not disclose all the results of a meeting he had on Wednesday with visiting IAEA chief Rafael Grossi.

INTERACTIVE_Nuclear Power Ukraine with control map
(Al Jazeera)

ICRC ‘ready’ to lead evacuations from Mariupol, deliver aid

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says its team in Ukraine is on its way to Mariupol with aid supplies and stands ready to evacuate civilians from the city on Friday.

“All parties must agree to the exact terms. This operation is critical,” the ICRC tweeted. “Tens of thousands of lives depend on it.”

Ewan Watson, an ICRC spokesman, confirmed to Reuters that the evacuation operation was planned for Friday.

“For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow … provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration,” he said in Geneva.

One civilian killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv region, governor says

At least one civilian has been killed by intense Russian shelling in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, its governor has said.

Oleg Sinegubov said in a post on Telegram that Moscow’s troops had fired “en masse” on the city of Derhachi, which sits about 16km (10 miles) to the northwest of the city of Kharkiv.

“One person was killed and three were injured,” he said, adding “one of the buildings of the City Council was destroyed … [and] many houses were damaged.”

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the figures provided.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

A man is seen walking on the debris of a destroyed house in Kharkiv
Kharkiv, a region of Ukraine that borders Russia, has been rocked by weeks of shelling [File: Felipe Dana/AP]

Ukraine crisis has raised shipping transit fees, Suez Canal chairman says

The war in Ukraine has led to an increase in shipping transit fees, Osama Rabie, the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, has told Egyptian broadcaster Asharq News.

The Suez Canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Children wounded as Russia uses phosphorus bombs: Ukrainian official

Eleven people, including four children, were wounded after Russian forces used banned phosphorus bombs in the Ukrainian-controlled area of the country’s eastern Donetsk region, the region’s governor has said.

“I am urging everyone who finds themselves on the front line, who are dependent on the availability of certain medical drugs, on medical care, to take this chance and leave,” Pavlo Kirilenko wrote on Facebook.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify Kirilenko’s claim.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of using phosphorus bombs, a charge Moscow denies. The 1977 Geneva Convention bans their use if they endanger civilians.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

‘Hundreds’ of South Ossetians fighting in Ukraine: ex-separatist leader

The former leader of South Ossetia, a breakaway province in ex-Soviet Georgia, said “hundreds of fighters” have joined Russian forces in Ukraine, complaining they were treated as “cannon fodder”.

“I don’t doubt that the boys who already returned home could go back to the special operation zone and help complete the liberation of Donbas IF THEY FIND IT NECESSARY,” Eduard Kokoity wrote on Telegram on Wednesday.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the 1990s. Its leaders said Georgia’s post-Soviet nationalist government violated the rights of Ossetians to use their language that is distantly related to Farsi.

Russia fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and recognised the “independence” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It now has large military bases there.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Moscow would not refuse Lavrov-Kuleba meeting: Report

Moscow would not refuse a meeting between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba but any talks between them would need to be substantive, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency has reported the country’s foreign ministry as saying.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Thursday that Ankara was working to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers for further talks after hosting peace negotiations in Istanbul this week.

Cavusoglu said the meeting could happen within two weeks.

Europe must stop buying Russian oil and gas, Lithuania says

Europe must stop buying oil and gas from Russia and should apply new sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania’s president has said.

The Kremlin uses the money raised by sales of energy exports to “finance [the] destruction of Ukrainian cities and attacks on peaceful civilians,” Gitanas Nauseda told a joint news conference Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

He also called for a fifth package of European Union sanctions on Russia, adding it should “deliver a maximum blow to the Kremlin regime”.

Turkey working to bring together Ukrainian, Russian foreign ministers

Turkey is working to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers for talks after hosting negotiations in Istanbul this week, the country’s foreign minister has said, adding the meeting could happen within two weeks.

Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia held the first face-to-face meeting in more than two weeks in Istanbul on Tuesday, during which Ukraine presented written proposals to stop the Russian invasion.

Speaking to broadcaster A Haber, Cavusoglu said Ankara had not seen the full implementation of decisions made during the discussions, including the withdrawal of Russian forces from some areas, but added significant progress was still made.

Addressing the surprise appearance of Roman Abramovich at the meeting, Cavusoglu said the sanctioned Russian billionaire was “sincerely” working to end the war.

Abramovich has been liaising between Kyiv and Moscow since the invasion began on February 24, he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech during Tuesday’s meeting in Istanbul [Arda Küçükkaya/Anadolu]

Ukraine says convoy of buses on its way to Mariupol

A convoy of Ukrainian buses has set out for the besieged, southeastern port city of Mariupol to try to deliver humanitarian supplies and bring out trapped civilians, the country’s deputy prime minister has said.

Iryna Vereshchuk said 45 buses were on their way to Mariupol after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed Russia had agreed to open a safe corridor. Seventeen buses had already left for Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, about 220km (136 miles) to the northwest, she added.

Another 28 were waiting for authorisation to pass the Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.

Mariupol’s mayor said this week that up to 170,000 residents were trapped there with no power and dwindling supplies. Previous attempts to organise safe corridors for civilians to evacuate from the city have failed.


Mariupol Ukraine
Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor in a residential area of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

16 killed in Mykolaiv attack: ministry

The number of casualties from Tuesday’s attack on the regional administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 16 people, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service.

The service said in a Telegram post that rescuers had worked all night looking for bodies and survivors in the debris of the nine-storey building, which had a gaping hole after being struck by Russian forces.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the figures provided.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Russia sanctions threaten to chip away at dollar dominance: IMF

Financial sanctions imposed on Russia threaten to gradually dilute the dominance of the US dollar and could result in a more fragmented international monetary system, a top official at the International Monetary Fund has said.

“The dollar would remain the major global currency even in that landscape, but fragmentation at a smaller level is certainly quite possible,” Gita Gopinath, IMF’s first deputy managing director, told the Financial Times, adding that some countries are already renegotiating the currency in which they get paid for trade.

She said the war will also spur the adoption of digital finance, from cryptocurrencies to stablecoins and central bank digital currencies.

Gita Gopinath speaks during a news conference in Santiago, Chile, July 23, 2019.
Gopinath speaks at a news conference in Santiago, Chile, in 2019 [Rodrigo Garrido/ Reuters]

15 percent of residential buildings destroyed in Kharkiv: mayor

After 35 days of intense shelling, Russian forces have destroyed 1,292 houses, 76 schools, 54 kindergartens and 16 hospitals in the besieged eastern city of Kharkiv, the city’s mayor has said.

Ihor Terekhov said in televised remarks that the losses amount to 15 percent of all buildings in the predominantly Russian-speaking city that lies some 40km (25 miles) west of the Russian border.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify Terekhov’s claim.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

epa09856076 Firefighters extinguish the fire in a warehouse that was hit by the Russian artillery shelling, in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine, 28 March 2022. Kharkiv, Ukraine?s second-largest city of 1.5 million people, which lies about 25 miles from the Russian border, has been heavily shelled by Russian forces over the past weeks, with many civilians killed in the city. EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY
Firefighters extinguish a fire in a Kharkiv warehouse that was hit by Russian shelling [File: Roman Pilpey/EPA-EFE]

War will hammer Russia, Ukraine economies this year: Bank

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development says Russia’s economy will contract by 10 percent this year while Ukraine’s gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 20 percent.

Before the Russian invasion, the bank had predicted that the Russian economy would expand by 3 percent and that Ukrainian GDP would grow by 3.5 percent this year.

India, Russia explore a rupee-rouble payment scheme to bypass sanctions

Indian authorities are considering dedicated rupee-rouble payment mechanisms for trade with Russia to enable existing trade obligations in the wake of sanctions imposed on the Kremlin.

Experts say a payment mechanism could pave the way for cheaper oil imports to India and open up opportunities for Indian manufacturers of agricultural machinery, medicine, furniture and bathroom fittings, among other goods, who are looking for new markets.

Read more here.

IEA countries to decide on collective oil release

New Zealand says member countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA) will meet on Friday at 12:00 GMT to decide on a collective oil release.

The IEA is an inter-governmental body that is tasked with maintaining the stability of global oil supplies.

West failing to ‘bind Russia’: Medvedev

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Western efforts to bind Russia have failed as Moscow was ready for sanctions.

“Of course, there are real difficulties Russia has to cope with, as we are … isolated from global value-added chains … facing growing unemployment and being sent into an economic turmoil,” he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.

He said, however, that “efforts to bound Russia fail as we were ready”, citing Moscow’s decision to call for payments in roubles for its gas exports

Export controls hit Russia car, tank industries: US

Global restrictions on exports to Russia have shut down a carmaker, halted work on tanks and cut a Russian computer maker’s access to circuits used in communications equipment, a US official said.

“Thirty-three countries have joined together with one export controls strategy,” said Thea Kendler, assistant secretary for export administration at the Commerce Department.

The carmakers affected include Renault, which controls Russian carmaker Avtovaz, while Russian firms affected include Baikal Electronics, Moscow Center for SPARC Technologies and Russian tank maker UralVagonZavod, said Kendler.

US planning to tap oil reserve to control gas prices

US President Joe Biden is preparing to order the release of up to 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, according to AP.

Citing two people familiar with the decision, the agency said the move is part of a bid to control energy prices that have spiked as the US and allies have imposed steep sanctions on Russia.

The announcement could come as soon as Thursday when Biden is planning to deliver remarks on his administration’s plans to combat rising gas prices.

Missile attack reported on Dnipro fuel depot

Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of launching a missile attack on a fuel depot near Dnipro.

“A rocket hit an oil depot in Dnipro,” said Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. “[It hit] one of the plants in Novomoskovsk.”

No casualties have been reported yet.

Ukraine recalls ambassadors to Georgia, Morocco

Zelenskyy has recalled Ukraine’s ambassadors to Georgia and Morocco, suggesting they had not done enough to persuade those countries to support Ukraine and punish Russia for the invasion.

“[I]f there won’t be weapons, won’t be sanctions, won’t be restrictions for Russian business, then please look for other work,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address. “I am waiting for concrete results in the coming days from … our representatives in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.”

Zelenskyy also said he was expecting results from Ukraine’s military attaches in embassies abroad because “the diplomatic front is one of the key fronts” in Ukraine’s battle against Russia.

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday night, March 30, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday night, March 30, 2022. [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

EU agrees with US assessment on Putin’s advisers: Report

A senior European diplomat has told Reuters that a US assessment of Putin’s advisers misleading him about the Ukraine war is in line with European thinking. “Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’,” the diplomat said.

Reuters also cited two European diplomats saying Russian conscripts were told they were taking part in military exercises but had to sign for extended duty before the invasion.

“They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” one of the diplomats told the news agency.

More aid needed to resist Russians: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has thanked the White House for pledging an additional $500m in direct aid but said he was open with Biden about Ukraine needing more to resist the Russian invasion.

“If we really are fighting for freedom and in defence of democracy together, then we have a right to demand help in this difficult turning point,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime video address to the nation.

Zelenskyy said the negotiations with Russia were continuing but for now, they were only “words without specifics”.

Talks to resume online on Friday: Ukrainian negotiator

Russia and Ukraine will resume peace talks online on April 1, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said in an online post that Ukraine had proposed a meeting between the countries’ leaders, but Russia responded by saying more work needed to be done on a draft treaty. The latest round of negotiations was held in Turkey this week.

UK intelligence chief says some Russian soldiers disobeying orders in Ukraine

The head of one of the UK’s intelligence agencies has said that some Russian soldiers in Ukraine have refused to carry out orders, adding Putin had “misjudged” the invasion.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) chief Jeremy Fleming said there was evidence that Moscow’s troops had low morale and were poorly equipped.

“We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he said during a speech in the Australian capital Canberra.

“It’s clear he [Putin] misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime, and he overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory,” Fleming added.

Although Putin’s advisers were believed to be too afraid to tell the truth, the “extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime,” he said.

UK’s Truss to visit India on same day as Russia’s Lavrov

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will visit India on Thursday as part of a “wider diplomatic push” on the war in Ukraine, her office says. Her trip coincides with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov being in India.

India has frustrated Western allies by refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and by buying Russian commodities at a discount.

The UK foreign ministry said Truss will underline the “importance of democracies working together to deter aggressors”, adding that she wanted a closer relationship with India to boost security and jobs in both countries.

Zelenskyy dismisses Russia’s promise to reduce military operations

Zelenskyy has said he does not trust Russian promises to scale back military activity and that the Ukrainian military was getting ready for further fighting in the country’s east.

“We don’t believe anyone, not a single beautiful phrase,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation, adding that Russian troops were regrouping to hit the eastern Donbas region.

“We will not give anything away. We will fight for every metre of our territory.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes a speech on evaluation the 22nd day of the Russia-Ukraine war during virtually addressing in Kyiv.
‘We will fight for every metre of our territory,’ Zelenskyy says [File: Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Russian promises ‘cannot be believed’: Analyst

Global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw says evacuations and other humanitarian interventions in Ukraine are “very difficult” because Russian promises cannot be believed.

Bociurkiw, a former spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine, spoke after Russia announced it would implement a ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilian evacuations from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“[A]nyone from the Red Cross or the Ukrainian government … has a very difficult time planning any type of intervention, evacuation, [or] humanitarian delivery because promises cannot be believed from the Russian side,” he said.

Russia announces ceasefire in Mariupol

Russia’s defence ministry has announced a local ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.

A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdyansk, will open from 10am (07:00 GMT) on Thursday.

The ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and ICRC before 6am (03:00 GMT) on Thursday.

A resident pushes a wheelbarrow in front of a destroyed building in Mariupol
A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdyansk, will open on Thursday, Moscow says [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Sanctions should remain until all Russian troops withdraw: UK’s Johnson

UK PM Boris Johnson says Western nations should not lift sanctions on Russia until all Russian troops leave Ukraine.

“I certainly don’t think that you could expect the G7 to lift sanctions simply because there’s been a ceasefire in Ukraine, and that again goes straight into Putin’s playbook,” Johnson said.

“In my view, we should continue to intensify sanctions with a rolling programme until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine.”

Ukraine invasion a ‘strategic blunder’ for Russia: White House

The White House communications director says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a mistake.

“It is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage,” Kate Bedingfield told reporters.

Russia repositioning less than 20 percent of its forces around Kyiv: Pentagon

Russia has started to reposition less than 20 percent of its forces around Kyiv, the Pentagon has said, cautioning that Moscow was expected to refit and resupply them for redeployment, not bring them home.

John Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson, said in a news briefing that some of the Russian forces may have already moved into Belarus.

Kirby also said Russian private military company Wagner Group had deployed about 1,000 contractors into Ukraine’s Donbas region, which Moscow declared a priority in its offensive.

What will happen if Russia turns off Germany’s gas supply?

Germany’s government has triggered the first stage of an emergency plan for natural gas supplies and is urging consumers to save energy in the face of growing concerns that sanctions-hit Russia could stop deliveries unless it is paid in roubles.

Putin announced last week his country would only accept rouble payments for natural gas deliveries to “unfriendly countries” – those that have imposed sanctions on Russia, including all EU members.

Click here for more on Germany’s decision.

Putin misled by advisers: White House

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been misled by his advisers about the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine, the White House says.

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, told reporters at a news briefing.

“We believe Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy has been crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.”

Read more here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia.
‘We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military,’ White House says [File: Mikhail Klimentyev/ Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Wednesday, March 30 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies