Almost all of Russia’s assaults on Ukrainian cities remain stalled, and there have been little or no advances made over the weekend, a senior U.S. Defense Department source said Monday.
Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion remains strong, particularly around the cities of Kyiv and Cherniv, according to the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence assessments.
The assessment comes the same day Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the military operation is “proceeding in accordance with the original plan and will be completed on time and in full.”
The U.S. official acknowledged that some cities have been surrounded and face increasing bombardment from Russian long-range artillery and missile attacks. Russia has fired more than 900 missiles at Ukrainian targets since the invasion began, and the attacks have become increasingly indiscriminate, the official said.
The attack over the weekend on the Yavoriv military training base in western Ukraine consisted of dozens of cruise missiles launched by Russian bombers inside Russian airspace, the official said. The attack from a distance, the official said, showed that a no-fly zone over Ukraine sought by the battered nation would not necessarily prevent Russia from assaulting by air.
There were no U.S. troops, contractors or citizens at the base when the missiles struck, the official said. Florida National Guard troops had trained Ukrainian forces there, but left the base before the Russian invasion. At least 35 people died in the attack.
Russia, despite its advantages in warplanes, has not dominated Ukrainian airspace, the official said.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, about 50 Russian vehicles moved southeast of Kharkiv, apparently seeking to link up with Russian forces in the south, the official said. They appear intent on cutting off Ukrainian troops fighting in the eastern part of the country.
The long-stalled Russian convoy north of Kyiv remains mostly stuck, the official said.
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► Russian forces abducted the mayor of Melitopol, Ukraine to Russian-occupied Luhansk, where he is being accused of “terrorism,” the Kyiv Independent reported, citing the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration.
► A Russian rocket attack on a television tower in the western village of Antopol on Monday morning killed nine people, according to the governor of the Rivne region. The village is only about 100 miles from the border of NATO member Poland.
► Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that he wants to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin in “single combat,” saying it’s for Ukraine.
►Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said he has asked his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to use Beijing’s influence over Moscow to end the war in Ukraine. “We are at a historical moment that requires responsibility and vision of all world leaders,” Albares said.
►A convoy of 160 civilian cars left the besieged port city of Mariupol along a designated humanitarian route, the city council reported. Previous efforts to open humanitarian corridors collapsed amid missile attacks and gunfire.
►A pregnant Ukrainian woman and her unborn child have died, days after images were seen around the world of her being rushed on a stretcher to an ambulance amid the devastation of a maternity hospital bombing in Mariupol. The images epitomized the horror of Russian attacks on innocent Ukrainian civilians.
►Ramzan Kadyrov, the hard-line leader of Russia’s Chechnya region accused of rights abuses by U.S. and European human rights groups, said he was meeting with Chechen troops aiding the Russian assault on Kyiv. Ukrainian forces he said, should surrender “or you will be finished.”
► At least 2.8 million Ukrainians have fled the country, the U.N. refugee agency said. Over 1.7 million of them exited through Poland.
The White House is considering for President Joe Biden to travel to Europe in support of Ukraine and allies in the coming weeks, according to multiple media reports.
The discussions have included considering Biden stopping in Brussels, home to NATO and the European Union, according to the reports from NBC News, Politico and Reuters. In addition, there are talks of Biden visiting Poland after a stop in Brussels, according to Reuters.
Any potential trip would come after Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Poland and Romania last week. The aim of her trip was to show unity among NATO allies amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Biden has traveled abroad twice during his administration, both times in Europe.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday would not confirm the president’s potential travel plans or preview what the trip may entail.
“There’s not been any final decision about a trip,” Psaki said. “So I don’t have anything to preview about what that would look like if you were to take a trip.”
– Rebecca Morin
Russia could be planning a chemical or biological weapon attack in Ukraine as a “false-flag” operation, according to the British Defense Ministry.
“Such an operation could take the form of a faked attack, a staged ‘discovery’ of agents or munitions or fabricated evidence of alleged Ukrainian planning to use such weapons,” Mick Smeath, the British Defense attache, said in a statement. “A ‘false-flag’ attack would almost certainly be accompanied by extensive disinformation to complicate attribution.”
Russian accusations that Ukraine intends to use chemical or biological weapons continue but are not backed by evidence, Smeath said. Instead, intelligence suggests Russia likely intended to use false-flag operations to justify their invasion of Ukraine in February.
On Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told ABC News that there are no indications of an imminent chemical or biological attack by the Russians. However, Kirby added that the Pentagon is closely monitoring for such an operation.
– Tom Vanden Brook
A woman protesting Russia’s war in Ukraine was detained after disrupting the live main evening news program on Russia’s state television while holding an anti-war sign.
The woman was identified as Marina Ovsyannikova and reportedly works for the station Channel One in Moscow, according to Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet based in Latvia.
As a news anchor was broadcasting on the network, Ovsyannikova dashed behind the anchor and held up a sign. She repeatedly said “Stop the war!” and “No to war!” before the audio and video were cut. Her sign read “No War” in English and included other messages in Russian reading, “Don’t believe the propaganda” and “you are being lied to.”
Meduza reported Ovsyannikova was detained and would be charged under a new Russian law barring the spread of information against Kremlin’s official stance on the war. The new law carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and has led to most major outlets pulling out of the country, along with the banning of most major social media outlets.
Before the demonstration, Ovsyannikova posted a video explaining she has family in both countries and that Russia was responsible for the bloodshed and aggression. She urged other Russians to join in protesting against the war.
– Christal Hayes
Russia’s war against Ukraine is threatening the global food supply and putting some of the world’s poorest countries at risk, the United Nations chief and the executive director of the World Food Program warned on Monday.
More than 40 African and least-developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and 18 of them import at least 50%, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters. These countries include Egypt, Congo, Burkina Faso, Leban, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, he said.
“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” the secretary-general warned.
David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, told The Associated Press during a visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that 50% of the grain the program buys to feed “the 125 million people we reach on any given day, week or month” comes from Ukraine, as does 20% of the world’s supply of corn.
A Fox News correspondent was injured in Ukraine and was hospitalized, the network said Monday, announcing what is likely one of the first American journalists from a major media outlet injured in the war.
State Department correspondent Benjamin Hall, who is based in Washington, was injured while reporting outside Kyiv. Suzanne Scott, the network’s chief executive officer, said details are minimal but Hall was hospitalized.
“This is a stark reminder for all journalists who are putting their lives on the line every day to deliver the news from the warzone,” Scott said in a statement.
Both the Pentagon and White House secretaries during press conferences Monday wished Hall a speedy recovery and said their thoughts are with him and his family. State Department spokesman Ned Price similarly expressed his heartbreak and said the State Department is “ready to assist in any way we can.”
On Sunday, American photojournalist Brent Renaud was killed in Ukraine when Russian soldiers opened fire on a car in Irpin, a town outside the capital of Kyiv. A second American journalist, Juan Arredondo, was rushed to a hospital with shrapnel wounds, police said. Arredondo, 46, told Italian journalist Annalisa Camilli that the two men were filming refugees fleeing the area when their car rolled up to a checkpoint and the Russians began shooting.
Ukraine President Volodymy Zelenskyy posted a photo to Twitter on Monday of a letter he sent to Renaud’s family in Arkansas, extending his sympathies and calling him a “talented and brave journalist” who died “documenting human tragedy, devastation and suffering of the millions of Ukrainians.”
“May Brent’s life, service and sacrifice inspire generations of people all around the world to stand up in fight for the forces of light against forces of darkness,” Zelenskyy said in the letter.
– Christal Hayes
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Chinese officials Monday the U.S. is concerned about any potential support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And he said any such assistance would have implications for Beijing’s relationship with Washington and allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, a State Department official told reporters Monday.
“We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won’t stand by,” spokesman Ned Price said. “We will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses.”
Sullivan met earlier with Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi in Rome.
He “raised a range of issues in U.S.-China relations, with substantial discussion of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” according to a White House readout of the meeting. “They also underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”
Price declined to confirm whether U.S. officials believe Beijing has conveyed its support for Moscow’s assault on Ukraine but said the U.S. is watching very closely whether China or any other country is providing any form of support including material, economic or financial assistance.
– Courtney Subramanian
A fourth round of talks aimed at ending or curtailing the devastating bombardment of Ukraine began Monday with the Russian side claiming significant progress and the bloodied but unbowed Ukrainians demanding a cease-fire, immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops and security guarantees.
The talks were halted for a “technical pause” and will continue Tuesday, an adviser to Ukraine President Volodymy Zelenskyy said. Mikhail Podolyak said additional work was needed in subcommittees, and that clarification of some terms was taking place. Podolyak said Ukraine’s demands remain unchanged despite a growing humanitarian crisis in some cities that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians struggling to obtain basic necessities such as food, water and medical supplies.
“Although Russia realizes the nonsense of its aggressive actions, it still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against peaceful cities is the right strategy,” Podolyak said on Twitter earlier Monday.
Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky had said the talks could “develop in the very next few days into a unified position of both delegations, into documents for signing,” Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
The talks are taking place via videolink after previous negotiations were held in neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally. The last round of talks were held a week ago, although on March 10 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba met while at a diplomatic forum in Turkey.
Poland’s foreign minister is accusing Russia of “state terrorism” for targeting civilians, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Zbigniew Rau told the U.N. Security Council Monday that Russia’s “unprovoked, unjustified and premeditated aggression” against Ukraine aimed at breaking the people’s spirit. He said the Russian assault was poorly planned and executed and has become a strategic and tactical failure.
“Instead of preventing further unnecessary deaths in its own ranks, the Kremlin changed its tactics,” he said. “The invading force started to target the civilian population” in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday that Ukraine President Volodymy Zelenskyy will address Congress virtually on Wednesday morning, saying the address is only open to members of Congress.
“Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a letter to colleagues. “We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelenskyy’s address to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy.”
– Dylan Wells
The Red Cross warns of a “worst-case scenario” for hundreds of thousands of civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol unless the parties agree to ensure their safety and access to humanitarian aid. The agency said in a statement that hundreds of residents of Mariupol are “facing extreme or total shortages of basic necessities like food, water and medicine.”
The Red Cross statement described Mariupol as overwhelmed by “dead bodies – of civilians and combatants – that remain trapped under the rubble or lying in the open where they fell. Life-changing injuries and chronic, debilitating conditions cannot be treated. The human suffering is simply immense.”
The agency called on the parties to agree on the terms of a cease-fire and routes for safe passage and to ensure the deal is respected. It offered to act as a neutral intermediary in negotiations.
“Time is running out for the hundreds of thousands trapped by the fighting,” the statement said. “History will look back at what is now happening in Mariupol with horror if no agreement is reached by the sides as quickly as possible.”
The newly installed mayor in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city Melitopol said “Russian TV channels” would be broadcasting in the region soon. Galina Danilchenko said in a televised video Sunday claimed there was “a great deficit of trustworthy information being circulated,” as the decision for the broadcasting, according to CNN.
Her televised address was later posted on social media by pro-Russian Telegram channels and by the Ukrainian-controlled Zaporozhye regional administration.
Danilchenko was installed as mayor after elected mayor Ivan Fedorov was detained by armed men on Friday. The prosecutor’s office for the Russian-backed separatist region of Luhansk later accused Fedorov of terrorism offenses.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for Federov’s immediate release, saying his “abduction” was a “crime against democracy.”
Contributing: The Associated Press