Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 31, 2022. —
With Russia’s war in Ukraine into its second month, Putin’s forces have continued to pound towns and cities from afar as Moscow’s military offensive stalls in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance.
Millions have fled their homes, creating Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Thousands of civilians and military personnel have been killed, and the Russian bombardments have left widespread devastation.
The Russian invasion has caused political and shockwaves around the world, deepening the rupture between Moscow and the West.
Follow Thursday’s updates in our blog below and watch our TV coverage in the video player above.
Thursday’s key points to know:
The content of the article:
- 1 Thursday’s key points to know:
- 2 Putin: Russia to enforce gas payments in roubles from Friday
- 3 Russian shelling continues in areas where it pledged to reduce combat operations
- 4 French intelligence chief sacked over Ukraine failings
- 5 Zelenskyy to Belgian parliament: ‘Peace more valuable than diamonds’
- 6 NATO: Russian troops repositioning, not withdrawing
- 7 Ukraine: new attempt to evacuate civilians stranded in Mariupol
- 8 Ukraine withdraws two ambassadors for being ‘uneffective’
- 9 Vladimir Putin’s popularity soars, according to new poll
- President Putin says foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from Friday, or else contracts will be halted. Germany’s Chancellor Sholz says European countries will continue to pay in euros or dollars.NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said intelligence shows Russian forces are not withdrawing but «repositioning» and regrouping.Kyiv is sending 45 buses to help evacuate civilians from Mariupol during a Russian ceasefire on Thursday.President Zelensky says his country’s defence is at a turning point, as they brace for a renewed Russian offensive in the east of Ukraine.Demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their own equipment, says UK spy chief.The Russian rouble has rebounded on international currency markets, leading to questions about the impact of Western sanctions. The Pentagon and the White House say intelligence suggests Vladimir Putin may not be getting the «full picture» of the war in Ukraine from his advisers.Officials in Ukraine say Russian forces have continued to strike around Kyiv and other cities, including residential areas of Chernihiv — both areas where Moscow pledged on Tuesday to «drastically» reduce combat operations. The Red Cross has confirmed a claim by Ukrainian authorities that one of its centres was hit by Russian bombardment in Mariupol, the besieged port in southeastern Ukraine destroyed by Putin’s forces.
Putin: Russia to enforce gas payments in roubles from Friday
Vladimir Putin says he has signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts will be halted if such payments are 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,» Putin 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.»
Russia supplies about a third of Europe’s gas, so energy gives Putin some clout as he tries to hit back against sweeping Western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian currency fell to historic lows after the February 24 invasion but has since recovered.
Western companies and governments have rejected the move as a breach of existing contracts, which are set in euros or dollars.
France’s economy minister said France and Germany were preparing for a possible scenario that Russian gas flows could be halted — something that would plunge Europe into a full-blown energy crisis.
European countries will continue to pay for Russian gas in euros and dollars as it is «written in the contracts», was the response to Putin from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
(with Reuters, AFP)
Russian shelling continues in areas where it pledged to reduce combat operations
Heavy fighting raged on the outskirts of Kyiv and other zones Thursday amid indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation as cover while regrouping and resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a stepped-up offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces shelled suburbs of the capital that Ukraine recently retook control of, a regional official said, two days after the Kremlin announced it would significantly scale back operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.”
In the Kyiv suburbs, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media that Russian forces shelled Irpin and Makariv, and that there were battles around Hostomel. Pavliuk said there were Ukrainian counterattacks and some Russian withdrawals around the suburb of Brovary to the east.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said: “Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.”
The UK confirmed “significant Russian shelling and missile strikes” around Chernihiv as well. The area’s governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russian troops were on the move but may not be withdrawing.
Russia’s Defense Ministry also reported new strikes on Ukrainian fuel stores late Wednesday, and Ukrainian officials said there were artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv over the past day.
French intelligence chief sacked over Ukraine failings
The head of French military intelligence, General Eric Vidaud, is being removed for what’s perceived to be his poor performance concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, AFP reports.
It quotes a military source confirming his departure as head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). The website l’Opinion quotes a defence ministry source in citing «insufficient briefings» and a «failure to master topics».
General Vidaud was only appointed to his post last summer, from a previous role at Special Opertions Command (COS).
In early March, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Thierry Burkhard, admitted in Le Monde newspaper that the French analysis on the question of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine had differed from that of the Americans. The US got it right, the French got it wrong.
«The Americans said that the Russians were going to attack, they were right. Our services rather thought that the conquest of Ukraine would have a monstrous cost and that the Russians had other options» to bring down President Zelensky, Burkhard said.
Zelenskyy to Belgian parliament: ‘Peace more valuable than diamonds’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Belgium to deliver arms to help his country fight Russian troops, particularly in Mariupol, judging peace more important than trade with Russia.
He made an allusion to the diamond trade of which the Belgian city of Antwerp is a stronghold in Europe. «I think peace is much more valuable than diamonds, than agreements with Russia, than Russian ships in ports, more so than Russian oil and gas, so help us!» he told the Belgian Parliament.
NATO: Russian troops repositioning, not withdrawing
READ THE FULL STORY HERE.
Ukraine: new attempt to evacuate civilians stranded in Mariupol
A new attempt to evacuate the many civilians stranded in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol was on track on Thursday, with the International Committee of the Red Cross saying it was ready to lead the «vital» operation, provided guarantees were met.
The ICRC has already tried on several occasions, unsuccessfully, to organize evacuations from Mariupol, a strategic port in south-eastern Ukraine, on the Sea of Azov.
«It is vital that these operations can take place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,» insisted the organization from Geneva, saying it hoped for a launch on Friday.
Moscow announced late Wednesday a «regime of silence» — a local ceasefire — Thursday 0700 GMT in order to open a humanitarian corridor «with the direct participation of representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the ICRC».
The Ukrainian government has for its part announced that it will dispatch 45 buses to evacuate civilians towards the city of Zaporozhye, 220 km to the northwest, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Seventeen buses have already left for Mariupol, she said.
People who managed to leave the city and NGOs described catastrophic conditions there, with civilians holed up in cellars, deprived of water, food and communication, and corpses littering the streets. Some 160,000 civilians are still stranded there and the municipality accuses Moscow of having evacuated «against their will» more than 20,000 inhabitants of Mariupol in Russia.
According to the British Ministry of Defence, «intense fighting continues in Mariupol» but the Ukrainians «retain control of the city center». The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, a faithful of Vladimir Putin, whose thousands of men are fighting in this area, assures the reverse that 90 to 95% of the city would now be under Russian control.
Ukraine withdraws two ambassadors for being ‘uneffective’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recalled his ambassadors from Morocco and Georgia, accusing them of not being efficient enough about obtaining weapons or sanctions support against Russia.
«There are those who work so that Ukraine can defend itself and fight for its future and there are those who waste their time clinging to their posts. I signed a first decree to recall such a person , Ambassador to Morocco» Oksana Vassilieva, he said in a video message on Wednesday.
«We also recalled the ambassador to Georgia» Igor Dolgov, added the Ukrainian president.
The Ukrainian ambassador to Georgia was recalled in early March for consultations following the Georgian government’s refusal to approve sanctions against Russia. Tbilisi also prevented the arrival of volunteer fighters from Georgia in Ukraine.
“With all due respect, if there are no weapons, no sanctions, no restrictions against Russian business, please look for another job,” he said.
«I expect results in the coming days from our representatives in Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. I also expect results from our military attachés. The diplomatic front is a front key and everyone must work efficiently», Zelenskyy said.
Vladimir Putin’s popularity soars, according to new poll
Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen his popularity soar since he launched an invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
A new poll published Thursday by the independent Levada Institute in Russia is the first since the start of the war.
It shows some 83% of Russians approve of Putin’s actions — that’s up 12 percentage points compared to the last survey carried out in February.
Only 15% of Russians say they do not approve of the president’s action (a drop of 12 percentage points in one month) while just 2% say they have no opinion.
Previous polls had been released in recent weeks and already showed an approval rating for Mr Putin of 80% or more, but these were carried out by pro-government institutes.
Vladimir Putin justified the Russian military offensive against his Ukrainian neighbor by accusing him of having orchestrated a genocide of Russian speakers, and of serving as a springboard for NATO, an existential threat to Russia.
This message is relayed on a daily basis by the state media, while critical voices have been forced into silence or exile, on pain of heavy criminal penalties in the event of remarks denigrating the action of the Russian army.
Russia has also banned some of the biggest social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok — accused of being anti-Russia.