Fire burns
Fire burns after a blast hits a shopping centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this still image obtained from a handout video released on March 20, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Russia-Ukraine conflict continues for the 26th day on Monday. Follow the latest updates:

Zelensky insists on meeting with Putin

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin "in any format" is needed to stop the war in Ukraine.

"I believe that without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war," Zelensky said in an interview with the Ukraine regional media outlet Suspilne.

Western leaders affirm support for Ukraine: UK PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday spoke to the leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Italy to discuss their coordinated response to the escalating crisis in Ukraine, his office said.

"The leaders affirmed their ongoing commitment to support Ukraine militarily, diplomatically and economically, equipping the democratically-elected government in Kyiv with the tools it needs to defend itself," Johnson's office said in a statement.

"They also resolved to increase the pressure on Russia to halt its unprovoked invasion, including by maintaining wide-ranging and coordinated sanctions."

US defence secretary to accompany Biden to NATO, Poland

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will accompany President Joe Biden in Europe this week for talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels and in Poland as allies respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Austin just returned from Europe on Saturday after a week of meetings with NATO allies.

White House warns US companies on 'preparatory' Russian hacking

Senior White House cybersecurity official Anne Neuberger said on Monday that important US companies that provide critical infrastructure should improve their cyber defensive posture because of ongoing digital threats from Russia.

Neuberger said the US government has seen "preparatory" Russian hacking activity aimed at numerous US companies, but it has "no certainty" such an attack will occur.

The administration recently provided classified briefings to hundreds of US companies that may be targeted by Russian hackers, Neuberger said.

The White House also published a written statement on Monday from President Joe Biden where he warned that Moscow may lash out with cyberattacks because of the "unprecedented economic costs weve imposed on Russia." This warning, Neuberger said, is based on "evolving threat intelligence."

Biden and European leaders discuss security, humanitarian support for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden and European leaders discussed Russia’s “brutal” tactics in Ukraine during a call on Monday, the White House said in read-out of the meeting.

The leaders also discussed security and humanitarian support for Ukraine, the White House said.

Biden held a call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK to discuss a coordinated response to Russia's attack on Ukraine. The call comes ahead of Biden’s trip to Europe later this week, where he will meet with NATO allies, G7 leaders and European Union leaders.

Britain prepares to temporarily nationalise Gazprom retail unit

The UK government is preparing to step in and temporarily run Russian gas giant Gazprom's British retail supply arm, Bloomberg News reported on Monday, as companies cut ties with Russian businesses.

Officials are closely monitoring the situation at Gazprom Marketing & Trading Retail Ltd, whose ultimate parent is Russian state-run Gazprom, Bloomberg reported.

The unit, operating as Gazprom Energy, supplies just over a fifth of Britain's commercial gas volume and serves thousands of customers including the National Health Service.

The company is a prime candidate to be taken into the UK's special administration regime if it fails, to ensure continuity of supply, the report said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

A government spokesperson said: "We are aware that Gazprom Energy has a large presence in the non-domestic energy retail market." "Gazprom's retail business continues to trade in the UK and customers should exercise their own commercial judgement with regards to energy supply contracts they have in place at the moment." The government added that Britain was in no way dependent on Russian gas, which made up less than 4% of its supply.

EU should slap sanctions on Russian oil exports, Lithuania says

The European Union needs to ramp up sanctions on Russia to hit the country's energy sector, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Monday.

"It's unavoidable we start talking about the energy sector, and we can definitely talk about oil because it is the biggest revenue to Russia's budget," he told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Recent developments

Russia Ukraine situtation report
Image Credit: Seyyed Lllata/Gulf News

Biden to travel to Poland to discuss Ukraine crisis: White House

US President Joe Biden will travel to Poland on Friday to meet with President Andrzej Duda for discussions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the White House said.

"The President will discuss how the United States, alongside our Allies and partners, is responding to the humanitarian and human rights crisis that Russia's unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The statement added that Biden's trip will come after a visit to Belgium to meet with leaders from NATO, the G7 and the European Union.

"The trip will be focused on continuing to rally the world in support of the Ukrainian people and against President Putin's invasion of Ukraine," Psaki said of Biden's trip to Europe.

"But there are no plans to travel into Ukraine," she added.

Ukraine rejects Putin's ultimatum to surrender Mariupol

Ukraine on Monday rejected an ultimatum to surrender the besieged city of Mariupol, its deputy prime minister told local media, demanding Moscow instead allow hundreds of thousands of terrified residents safe passage out.

"We can't talk about surrendering weapons," Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainska Pravda hours before a Russian deadline.

"We have already informed the Russian side about it," she said, demanding Moscow instead open humanitarian corridors to allow an estimated 350,000 people still trapped in the city to leave.

Russia's Ministry of Defence had earlier said Ukraine had until 5am on March 21 to respond to Russian proposals, warning that more than a "court martial" awaits those who do not surrender.

"We call on units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, territorial defence battalions, foreign mercenaries to stop hostilities, lay down their arms" said the head of the Russian National Defence Control Centre Mikhail Mizintsev.

Here are the latest developments Russia-Ukraine conflict:

'Civilian targets bombed'

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of bombing a Mariupol art school where some 400 people, including women and children, had been sheltering.

Forceable transfer claim

Mariupol officials claim Russian forces have forcibly transported around a thousand residents to Russia and stripped them of their Ukrainian passports.

Chernigiv hospital hit

The mayor of the encircled northern city of Chernigiv says dozens of civilians have been killed by "indiscriminate artillery shelling", and that a hospital has been hit.

"The city is suffering from an absolute humanitarian catastrophe," he adds.

Kyiv shopping centre bombed

At least one person is killed when Russian forces shell a shopping centre in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the city's mayor says.

'Time to meet', says Zelensky

Zelensky calls for urgent talks with Russia, adding Jerusalem is perhaps "the right place for finding peace. If this is possible."

Turkey says Russia, Ukraine 'close to agreement'

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Russia and Ukraine have made progress in negotiations and are "close to an agreement".

Turkey says it is also ready to host a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hypersonic weapons

Russia says it has again fired hypersonic missiles in Ukraine, destroying a fuel storage site in the country's south.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin says if confirmed, the use of the weapons would not be a "game changer".

China says not arming Russia

China's ambassador to the US says his country is not sending weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, but he does not definitively rule out the possibility Beijing might do so in the future.

Pope denounces 'senseless massacre'

Pope Francis denounces the "senseless massacre where every day slaughter and atrocities are repeated" in Ukraine, appealing to the international community to stop the war.

"There is no justification for this," he adds.

Azovstal steel works damaged

Ukrainian officials say one of Europe's biggest iron and steel works, Azovstal, has been badly damaged by Russian forces.

Australia bans alumina, bauxite exports

Australia bans all exports of alumina and bauxite to Russia while pledging more weapons and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Russia relies on Australia for 20 percent of its alumina.

10 million have fled their homes in Ukraine

Ten million people - more than a quarter of the population - have now fled their homes in Ukraine due to Russia's "devastating" war, the United Nations refugees chief says Sunday. More than 3.3 million of them have escaped the country.