A firefighter works at a residential district that was damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, on March 23, 2022.
A firefighter works at a residential district that was damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, on March 23, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

The battle for the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is raging on even as Russia's attack on Ukraine, now in its 28th day, shows no signs of abating. Follow the latest developments:

Day 27: Updates

Russian regulator blocks Google News, cites Ukraine conflict

Russia's communications regulator has blocked the news aggregator service of Alphabet Inc's Google, accusing it of allowing access to what it calls fake material about the country's military operation in Ukraine, Interfax news agency said on Wednesday.

"We've confirmed that some people are having difficulty accessing the Google News app and website in Russia and that this is not due to any technical issues on our end," Google said in statement.

"Weve worked hard to keep information services like News accessible to people in Russia for as long as possible." Interfax said Roskomnadzor, the regulator, had acted on a request from the office of Russia's prosecutor general.

"The American online news resource in question provided access to numerous publications and materials containing inauthentic and publicly important information about the course of the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine," Interfax quoted the regulator as saying.

A new Russian law makes it illegal to report any event that could discredit the Russian military.

Russian army 'taking defensive positions' in Ukraine: Pentagon

The Russian army has retreated more than 30 kilometers east of Kyiv in the past 24 hours and has begun to establish defensive positions on several fronts in Ukraine, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

"The Ukrainians have managed to push the Russians back 55 kilometers east and northeast of Kiev," the senior official, who requested anonymity, told reporters. "That is a change from yesterday."

On Tuesday the Pentagon had estimated that Russian forces were around 20 kilometers from the center of the capital.

To the northwest, "they're basically digging in and they are establishing defensive positions," the official added. "So it's not that they're not advancing. They're actually not trying to advance right now."

Biden arrives in Brussels for crunch summits on Ukraine

US President Joe Biden arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for crunch summits with European, G7 and NATO allies, expected to focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pictures on broadcaster CNN showed.

Biden, who will be seeking to rally allies to forge a united response to Moscow, will participate in meetings of NATO, the European Union and G7 Thursday before visiting Poland Friday and Saturday.

UK to provide 6,000 missiles to Ukraine in new support

Britain will provide Ukraine with about 6,000 new defensive missiles and almost £30 million to support the BBC’s coverage in the region and pay Ukrainian soldiers and pilots.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce the new package of support on Thursday at the NATO and G7 leaders’ meetings while also signalling a willingness to bolster Ukraine’s defence capabilities further, his office said on Wednesday.

“The United Kingdom will work with our allies to step up military and economic support to Ukraine, strengthening their defences as they turn the tide in this fight,” Johnson said.

“One month into this crisis, the international community faces a choice. We can keep the flame of freedom alive in Ukraine, or risk it being snuffed out across Europe and the world.”

Putin wants 'unfriendly' countries to pay for Russian gas in roubles

Russia will seek payment in roubles for gas sold to “unfriendly” countries, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, and European gas prices soared on concerns the move would exacerbate the region’s energy crunch.

European nations and the United States have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. But Europe depends heavily on Russian gas for heating and power generation, and the European Union is split on whether to sanction Russia’s energy sector.

Putin’s message was clear: If you want our gas, buy our currency. It remained unclear whether Russia has the power to unilaterally change existing contracts agreed upon in euros.

The rouble briefly leapt after the shock announcement to a three-week high past 95 against the dollar. It pared gains but stayed well below 100, closing at 97.7 against the dollar, down more than 22 per cent since Feb. 24.

Renault suspends Moscow plant, adjusts 2022 outlook

Renault on Wednesday said it would suspend operations at its plant in Moscow while it assesses options on its majority stake in Avtovaz, the country's number one carmaker.

The French carmaker as a consequence revised its operating group margin to around 3 per cent.

Russia expels US diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Russia on Wednesday said it was expelling US diplomats in retaliation for Washington's move earlier this month to remove 12 of Moscow's representatives to the UN based in the US.

"On March 23, a note with the list of the American diplomats declared 'persona non grata' was handed to the head of the American diplomatic mission who was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the ministry said in a statement.

US to announce Russia-related sanctions on Thursday

The United States will announce a package of Russia-related sanctions on political figures and oligarchs on Thursday while US President Joe Biden meets with NATO leaders on Ukraine, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday.

Sullivan, speaking to reporters as Biden headed to Brussels for the NATO summit, said G-7 leaders will also agree on Thursday to coordinate on sanctions enforcement and plan to issue a statement.

He also said officials will have more to say on Friday about European energy issues.

UN meets to consider humanitarian resolutions

Ukraine's UN ambassador is urging all nations that stand against Russia's attack to vote for a UN resolution on the humanitarian consequences of its aggression, saying this will send a powerful message aimed at helping people caught in the conflict and ending Moscow's military action.

Russia's UN envoy countered that the UN General Assembly, which is considering the resolution, is just “another political anti-Russian show, set this time in an allegedly humanitarian context'' and urged its 193 member nations to vote against it and support a rival South African draft resolution that focuses solely on humanitarian issues with no “political assessment.''

Ukraine's Sergiy Kyslytsya and Russia's Vassily Nebenzia spoke at the start of Wednesday's emergency special session of the General Assembly to consider the rival resolutions on the humanitarian impact of the war, which will mark its one-month anniversary on Thursday. Russia has also called for a vote later Wednesday in the UN Security Council on its own humanitarian resolution, which has been widely criticized for not referring to its attack on Ukraine.

Kyslytsya said the Ukraine-backed assembly resolution, drafted by two dozen diplomats from all parts of the world and co-sponsored by nearly 100 countries, focuses on “the urgent need to elevate the humanitarian suffering on the ground and immediate cessation of hostilities by the Russian Federation.''

Nebenzia warned that adoption of that resolution “will make a resolution to the situation in Ukraine more difficult.'' That's because it will likely embolden Ukrainian negotiators and “nudge them to maintaining the current unrealistic position, which is not related to the situation on the ground, nor to the need to tackle the root causes'' of Russia's military action, he said.

Liberal Anatoly Chubais quits as Putin envoy: Kremlin

Anatoly Chubais, a prominent Russian liberal reformer of the 1990s, has quit his post as sustainable development adviser to President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin confirmed on Wednesday.

A source close to Chubais told state news agency TASS that the 66-year-old, who has sometimes voiced criticisms of Putin's actions, had left the country, while the Kremlin did not confirm this.

"Chubais resigned according to his own desire. But whether he has left or not - that's his personal business," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti state news agency.

Peskov did not give a reason for Chubais's resignation and the politician has not made a public statement.

Chubais was an economist who oversaw liberal free market reforms in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, including a privatisation drive, a role for which he remained highly unpopular in Russia.

NATO adding troops in eastern Europe

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organisation is setting up new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from launching an attack on any of its members.

The battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, will be set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Stoltenberg says they will remain in place "as long as necessary."

Speaking Wednesday on the eve of a summit of NATO leaders, Stoltenberg said that Russia's war on Ukraine means "a new normal for our security and NATO has to respond to that new reality."

Stoltenberg says the leaders are likely to agree to send more assistance to Ukraine, including "equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats."

NATO's 30 allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg says that "any use of chemical weapons would totally change the nature of the conflict," and would have "far-reaching consequences" for Russia. He declined to elaborate.

Firefighters extinguish a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv's Shevchenkivsky district, on March 23, 2023.
Firefighters extinguish a burning house hit by Russian Grad rockets in Kyiv's Shevchenkivsky district, on March 23, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Zelensky to address Swedish, Danish parliaments

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the Swedish and Danish parliaments in the coming days, one month into the Russian attack of his country, the two assemblies said Wednesday.

Zelensky has made multiple appearances by video link before parliaments in other countries.

His speech to Sweden's Riksdag is scheduled for Thursday at 10:55 am local time (0955 GMT), the parliament said.

"I'm honoured that the president of Ukraine wants to address parliament during a raging war," said speaker Andreas Norlen.

Zelensky will address the Folketing in Denmark on March 29.

On Wednesday, Zelensky was to speak to the French National Assembly, and on Thursday he is due to address an extraordinary NATO summit.

Kyiv, which has received large deliveries of mainly anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons from the West, is now calling for "offensive weapons" as deterrence against the Russian army.

Sweden has delivered 5,000 anti-tank launchers to Ukraine, breaking its doctrine of not sending weapons to countries in active conflict for the first time since 1939.

Denmark has also sent lethal aid to Ukraine in the form of 2,700 anti-tank weapons.

Belarus expels majority of Ukrainian diplomats

Russia's ally Belarus said Wednesday it will be expelling most Ukrainian diplomats working in the country, accusing Kyiv of "interference" in its domestic affairs.

"Belarus has decided to reduce the number of Ukrainian diplomats on its territory. This measure is aimed at stopping the non-diplomatic activities of several staff members of Ukraine's diplomatic institutions," Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said.

Only Ukraine's ambassador and four diplomats will continue working in Minsk, compared to over 20 people currently staffing the embassy.

Belarus said it will also close the Ukrainian consulate in the western city of Brest "due to the effective absence of staff".

Belarus had already withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Ukraine after the start of Russia's military operation.

NATO accuses China of backing Russia with 'blatant lies'

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday accused China of giving political backing to Russia as it attacks Ukraine, and warned Beijing against providing material support to Moscow's war effort.

"China has provided Russia with political support, including by spreading blatant lies and misinformation, and allies are concerned that China could provide material support for the Russian iattack," Stoltenberg said ahead of an urgent NATO summit on Thursday.

"I expect leaders will call on China to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council, refrain from supporting Russia's war effort, and join the rest of the world in calling for an immediate, peaceful end to this war."

A Ukrainian firefighter sprays water inside a house destroyed by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian firefighter sprays water inside a house destroyed by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine. Image Credit: AP

NATO head tells Russia it cannot win nuclear war

NATO warned on Wednesday against Russia's war in Ukraine sliding into a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and the West.

"Russia should stop this dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference. "But let there be no doubt about our readiness to protect and defend allies against any threat anytime." "Russia must understand that it can never win a nuclear war," he said on the eve of a summit of the Western military alliance's national leaders in Brussels. "NATO is not part of the conflict ... it provides support to Ukraine but isn't part of the conflict." "NATO will not send the troops into Ukraine... It is extremely important to provide support to Ukraine and we are stepping up. But at the same time it is also extremely important to prevent this conflict becoming a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia."

Ukraine says 'significant difficulties' in Russia talks

Kyiv said on Wednesday that talks with Russia to end nearly one month of fighting were encountering "significant difficulties" after Moscow accused the United States of hindering peace efforts.

"The negotiations are continuing online. They are proceeding with significant difficulties because the Ukrainian side has clear and principled positions," Ukraine's lead negotiator Mykhaylo Podolyak told reporters in written comments.

His comments came after Moscow earlier accused Kyiv of shifting its negotiating position, saying the United States was working to keep Russia and Ukraine "in a state of military action as long as possible".

Ongoing talks between the two sides have failed to produce any breakthroughs despite earlier hopes that a document might be signed, following announcements from both sides.

Moscow says completed two prisoner swaps with Ukraine

Russia's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that two prisoner exchanges have taken place since its military action in Ukraine began last month.

"Russia's defence ministry organises daily humanitarian corridors and the evacuation of civilians from residential areas," the foreign ministry said on its website.

"In addition, two prisoner exchanges between Russia and Ukraine have taken place," it added without providing details on the dates or number of prisoners exchanged.

On Monday, Russia's human rights ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova said nine Russian prisoners were exchanged for the mayor of Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine captured by the Russian army.

Russia accuses US of hindering Ukraine talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused the United States of seeking to hinder Moscow's talks with Ukraine aimed at ending the almost month-long conflict.

"The talks are tough, the Ukrainian side constantly changes its position. It's hard to avoid the impression that our American colleagues are holding their hand," Lavrov told students in Moscow.

He added that "the Americans simply see it as disadvantageous for them for this process to finish swiftly," claiming "they are counting on continuing to pump up Ukraine with weapons".

Lavrov referred to "provocative statements" about Soviet-era MiG fighter planes - apparently referring to Poland's offer to send its MiG-29 fighter jets via a US air base, which the US rejected - and Ukraine's pleas for sending extra Stinger missiles.

The United States "apparently wants to keep us in a state of military action as long as possible", the Russian minister said.

Lavrov said that Russia needed to "stand firm".

"Western countries want to play some kind of intermediary role but we have red lines".

Russia says Polish idea of peacekeepers in Ukraine could lead to clash with NATO

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said sending peacekeepers to Ukraine could lead to a direct confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance.

Poland said last week that it would formally submit a proposal for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at the next NATO summit.

"I hope they understand what they are talking about," Lavrov told staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

"This will be the direct clash between the Russian and NATO armed forces that everyone has not only tried to avoid but said should not take place in principle." Moscow has accused Kyiv of stalling peace talks by making proposals unacceptable for Russia. Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.

Lavrov said Ukrainian authorities were backing away from their own proposals at the talks, making it difficult to achieve a breakthrough.

"The talks have started, they are difficult because the Ukrainian side... constantly changes its mind and backs away from its own proposals," Lavrov said.

Ukraine says Russia seized relief workers in Mariupol convoy

Ukrainian leaders accused Russia of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers from a humanitarian convoy trying to get desperately needed food and other supplies into the bloodied port city of Mariupol, which also came under naval attack after weeks of air and land strikes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimated that 100,000 civilians remained in Mariupol, scene of some of the war's worst devastation, as Russia presses a nearly month-old offensive by bombarding cities and towns. Those made it out described a shattered city.

Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, in Mariupol.
Multiple explosions and rising smoke are seen around an industrial compound, in Mariupol. Image Credit: REUTERS

Biden seeks new sanctions, help for Ukrainians in Europe

With the future of Europe hanging in the balance, President Joe Biden will huddle with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week as the leaders try to prevent Russia's war on Ukraine from spiraling into an even greater catastrophe.

Biden embarks Wednesday on a four-day trip that will test his ability to navigate the continent's worst crisis since World War II.

Zelensky will attend NATO summit via video link

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will take part via video link in this week's special NATO summit to discuss the Russian attack, his spokesman said. Kyiv said the evacuation of civilians from the besieged southern port of Mariupol continued, but about 100,000 people remain there under bombardment.

US President Joe Biden, who's traveling to Europe for Thursday's NATO meeting, said further sanctions on Russia will be announced during his trip. European Union members Germany and Hungary sought to put the brakes on a potential Russian oil embargo.

The front was largely static throughout the country as Russian forces regroup in response to stiffer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance. Poland detained a man suspected of spying for Russia.

Thousands trapped

Almost 100,000 people are trapped among the ruins of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, facing starvation, thirst and relentless Russian bombardment, President Volodymyr Zelensky said as the UN sharpened demands for Moscow to end its "absurd" and "unwinnable" war.

Tens of thousands of residents have already fled the besieged southern port city, bringing harrowing testimony of a "freezing hellscape riddled with dead bodies and destroyed buildings", according to Human Rights Watch.

In his latest video address Tuesday, Zelensky said more than 7,000 people had escaped in the last 24 hours alone, but one group travelling along an agreed humanitarian route west of the city were "simply captured by the occupiers."

He warned that many thousands more were unable to leave as the humanitarian situation worsens.

"Today, the city still has nearly 100,000 people in inhumane conditions. In a total siege. Without food, water, medication, under constant shelling and under constant bombing," he said, renewing calls for Russia to allow safe humanitarian corridors for civilians to escape.

Satellite images of Mariupol released by private company Maxar showed a charred landscape, with several buildings ablaze and smoke billowing from the city.