Editor’s note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Wednesday, March. 30. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Thursday, March 31, as Russia’s invasion continues.
Some Russian military units suffering heavy losses in Ukraine have been forced to return home or to Belarus to resupply, placing additional pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics, the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment Wednesday.
The problems demonstrate the difficulties Russia is having reorganizing its units in forward areas within Ukraine, the assessment says. Moscow will likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground-force capability “through mass artillery and missile strikes,” the assessment says.
President Joe Biden spoke with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, informing him the United States intends to provide the Ukrainian government with another $500 million in aid, the White House said.
Russia this week announced plans to dial back its military activity in and around Kyiv, but Ukraine authorities say the city continues to be battered by artillery assaults, and the Pentagon said less than 20% of the forces have been removed. Russian military leaders have said forces would focus on “liberating” the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk territories in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Russia’s stated focus on an offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk is likely a tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance,” the British assessment says.
USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel for update
LATEST MOVEMENT:Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
UKRAINE-RUSSIA CRISIS:The latest updates on the situation in Ukraine. Sign up here.
►The U.N. food chief warned that the war in Ukraine has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe” and will have a global impact “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II” because many of the Ukrainian farmers who produce a significant amount of the world’s wheat are now fighting Russians.
►Poland announced steps to end all Russian oil imports by year’s end after banning coal imports earlier this week. Meanwhile, the German government said it received assurances from Russia that European companies won’t have to pay for Russian gas in rubles, a prospect that had raised fears Russia could cut them off.
►Over 4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, about 10% of the population, a United Nations refugee agency says.
►More than 80 attacks on medical workers and patients during Russia’s invasion have resulted in at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, the World Health Organization said.
►Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have reached out to their Russian counterparts who have “not answered and they have not replied with a willingness to do so,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Biden to tap oil reserve to control gas prices
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 two people familiar with the decision, in a bid to control energy prices that have spiked as the U.S. and allies have imposed steep sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine
The announcement could come as soon as Thursday, when the White House says Biden is planning to deliver remarks on his administration’s plans to combat rising gas prices. The duration of the release hasn’t been finalized but could last for several months. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the decision.
High oil prices have not coaxed more production, creating a challenge for Biden. The president has seen his popularity sink as inflation reached a 40-year high in February and the cost of petroleum and gasoline climbed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Crude oil on Wednesday traded at nearly $105 a barrel, up from about $60 a year ago. Read more.
Less than 20% of the forces that Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed to assault Kyiv have been moved away from the Ukrainian capital, some of them relocated to neighboring Belarus, a Pentagon press secretary said Wednesday.
None of the troops have been sent to their home garrisons in Russia, Kirby said. Instead, they appear headed to Belarus for “refit and repurposing for future operations in Ukraine.” The assessment contradicts Russian claims that it is withdrawing some of its forces near Kyiv to lower tensions.
Kyiv is still being hit by artillery and air strikes, Kirby said, adding that if Russia is serious about reducing tensions, commanders should send their troops home.
In the northern city of Chernihiv, less than 100 miles from Kyiv, city council secretary Olexander Lomako said the Russians had actually intensified their military action and their announcement turned out to be “a complete lie.”
Kirby said the Pentagon concurs with an assessment that Russian military leaders do not appear to be keeping Putin fully informed about setbacks in the war. Kirby called the assessment “disconcerting.”
“If he’s not fully informed of how poorly he’s doing, then how are his negotiators going to come up with an agreement that is enduring, certainly one that respects Ukrainian sovereignty?” Kirby said.
— Tom Vanden Brook
President Joe Biden pledged an additional $500 million in aid to Ukraine in a phone call Wednesday with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have failed to produce a breakthrough.
The White House confirmed the additional “direct budgetary aid” after Biden spoke to Zelenskyy for about an hour in a call that concluded shortly after noon ET. The infusion of new assistance is on top of $2 billion the U.S. has committed to Ukraine since Biden became president.
Zelenskyy updated Biden on the status of Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia, according to the White House. It comes as the Biden administration has expressed skepticism about Russia’s stated plans to reduce military forces near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The two leaders also discussed how the U.S. is “working around the clock” to fulfill security requests by Ukraine, the White House said, and efforts with allies to identify additional assistance needed by the Ukrainian government.
Zelenskyy said in a tweet they discussed their assessment of “the situation on the battlefield and the negotiating table” as well as defense support, a package of new sanctions on Russia and financial and humanitarian aid.
– Joey Garrison
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about Russian forces’ performance in Ukraine, according to a U.S. official. The official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday to discuss the recently declassified intelligence finding, said Putin has felt misled by the Russian military, leading to tension between the sides.
The findings demonstrate a “clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information” to Putin, and show that Putin’s senior advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth,” the official said.
The U.S. believes Putin is being misled not only about his military’s poor performance but also “how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because, again, his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday met with the parents of Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2019.
Joey and Paula Reed met in the Oval Office with Biden and some senior administration officials for more than a half hour, according to Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for the Reed family.
“During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to continue to work to secure the release of Trevor, Paul Whelan, and other Americans wrongfully held in Russia and elsewhere, and to provide all possible assistance until they and others are free and returned home to their families who are advocating so passionately for their release,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Reed’s parents are demonstrating outside the White House to raise awareness of the case. Reed was visiting his girlfriend in Russia in August 2019 when he was arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Reed has said he was intoxicated the night before his arrest after attending a birthday party. As Reed and his girlfriend drove home the next morning, Reed became nauseated and got out of the car on a busy street.
According to Moscow police, after Reed was detained he grabbed the arm of a police officer driving the vehicle to the station and swerved the car to enter the lane of oncoming traffic. Reed and his family have disputed that account, pointing to video evidence that does not show the vehicle swerving.
In a statement Tuesday, the Reed family said their son has recently started a hunger strike to protest a lack of medical care for possible tuberculosis while in confinement.
— Joey Garrison; The Associated Press
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan after a U.S. record 355 days at the International Space Station. Vande Hei returned alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space, and Anton Shkaplerov. Wind blew the capsule onto its side following touchdown, and the trio emerged into the late afternoon sun one by one.
Vande Hei, the last one out, grinned and waved as he was carried to a reclining chair out in the open Kazakh steppes.
“It’s beautiful out here,” said Vande Hei, who planned to return immediately to Houston with a team of NASA doctors and other staff.
No significant breakthrough took place in talks with Ukraine aimed at ending Russia’s invasion, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. Negotiators for the two countries met for about three hours Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey. Russia then said its military was scaling back operations around the capital of Kyiv – but U.S. and Ukrainian officials say missile attacks on the city continue unabated.
Peskov said the Kremlin will not discuss issues that are “substantially on the negotiating table.” He said social media postings by representatives of Ukraine, including those not involved in the talks, do not contribute to successful negotiations.
“No one has stated that the parties have advanced. Who has stated that the parties have advanced?” Peskov said, adding that none of the officials involved in the talks had described them as positive.
Peskov also dismissed a Ukrainian proposal to negotiate the status of the Crimean Peninsula over the next 15 years. “Crimea is part of the Russian Federation,” Peskove said.
Estonia wants Europe to help build Ukraine – with the money Europe is set to pay Russia for its energy. The funds should be deposited in a bank to Ukraine “to make an immediate impact and make Russia pay for what has been done,” Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said Wednesday.
But there is also concern that Russia could reject any delayed payment and sell to other nations. European Union leaders have been unable to impose sanctions on Russian energy exports, fearing that such a move could hurt member states heavily reliant on Moscow’s fossil fuel supplies.
Liimets also stressed the importance of the EU’s commitment to cut its fossil fuel supplies from Russia by two-thirds before the end of the year, saying “the price of military action for Russia must be very high.”
Estonia, with a population of about 1.5 million people, shares a border with Russia and was a part of the Soviet Union until declaring its independence 1991. Estonia became a member of NATO in 2004.
The demilitarization of Russia is “well underway,” Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday as the conflict in Ukraine entered its second month. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed his invasion sought only the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. But according to Kyslytsya, Russian forces have lost over 17,000 military personnel, over 1,700 armored vehicles and almost 600 tanks in the invasion.
Russia announced Tuesday that it would scale back military operations near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. But Ukrainian military officials said they distrust Russia’s announced withdrawal, and American officials remained skeptical.
USA TODAY rides with Ukrainians in a convoy out of their war-ravaged homeland, crossing the border to Moldova. Some will stay there, hoping for a quick end to the war and a safe return home. Others are headed further west into the European Union, which is offering assistance and work permits to some Ukrainian refugees. Salam Aldeen, 39, drives one of the buses taking women and children to safety. Aldeen is also the founder of the international rescue nonprofit Team Humanity, which organized the convoy. Read more here.
“The ones with cars have left on their own,” Aldeen says. “That leaves the poor people.”
– Trevor Hughes
Ukraine and Russia together produce 30% of the world’s wheat supply. They contribute to 20% of the global maize supply, and 75 to 80% of the sunflower seed oil.
Now, the war in Ukraine is threatening the global food supply, the U.N. food chief warned Tuesday. He said the global impact will be the most severe the world has seen since World War II, and that the invasion has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe.”
Many farmers from Ukraine, sometimes referred to as “the breadbasket of the world,” have left their farms and are fighting Russian soldiers amid already high food prices.
David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that his agency had already begun cutting rations because of rising food, fuel, and shipping costs for millions of families around the world.
– Celina Tebor
Contributing: The Associated Press