Ukraine war live updates: China's Xi leaves Moscow after mixed talks with Putin; drones target Kyiv and Crimea, officials say

Drone strikes on Kyiv show Russia isn’t interested in peace, Zelenskyy says

“Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling occasions, and that’s just in one last night of Russian terror against Ukraine,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter Wednesday.

Julien De Rosa | Pool | Reuters

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said overnight drone strikes on Kyiv show Russia isn’t interested in pursuing a peaceful end to the war, despite talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping covering Beijing’s proposed peace plan.

“Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling occasions, and that’s just in one last night of Russian terror against Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter Wednesday.

“Every time someone tries to hear the word “peace” in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes,” he added.

Zelenskyy’s comments came just hours after Xi left Moscow on Wednesday morning after several days of talks during a state visit to Moscow.

Xi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed deepening their countries strategic and economic cooperation as well as China’s proposed 12-peace plan for Ukraine, which critics says does little to address Ukraine’s overarching requirement in any peace deal — namely that Russia withdraws all its forces from Ukraine and that it regains all lost territory, including Crimea.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia extends 500,000 barrels per day oil cut into June

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak arrives for Russia – China talks in an expanded format at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 21, 2023.

Sergei Karpukhin | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia will maintain its unilateral production cut of 500,000 barrels per day until the end of June, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Tuesday, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Moscow had in February announced it would implement such a measure in March, without disclosing a potential extension at the time. Novak reiterated Russia’s opposition to western sanctions against its seaborne crude oil and oil products, which came into effect in December and February, respectively.

Russian crude oil output most recently averaged 9.91 million barrels per day in February, according to the International Energy Agency. Russia and Saudi Arabia are the largest producers of the OPEC+ alliance, and Moscow’s unilateral cut builds on the coalition’s initiative to remove 2 million barrels per day from the oil market, agreed in October.

Ruxandra Iordache

Deaths reported in Kyiv after drone strike

Kyiv in the evening.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

At least four people have died following a Russian drone strike on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Head of Kyiv’s regional police Andriy Nebytov said on Telegram that “another dead person was just retrieved from the fifth floor of the building destroyed by the Shaheds [Iranian-made drones] during a nighttime drone attack.”

The fourth victim was a 40-year-old man who Nebytov said “did not go down to the shelter during the air raid siren.”

The official’s post was accompanied by a video and images showing the top of a building with its top story largely destroyed.

— Holly Ellyatt

Both Ukraine and Russia claim they’ve been targeted by drones

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was targeted by Russian drone strikes overnight, regional officials said Wednesday, while the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea also claimed Russia’s Black Sea Fleet had been targeted by drones.

“The enemy does not stop attacking Kyiv. This night, the terrorist country again launched its deadly UAVs in the direction of the capital. According to preliminary information, these were “Shahed” [Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones] barrage ammunition,” Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv city military administration, said on Telegram.  

He said the drones that were identified in the airspace around Kyiv were destroyed by Ukraine’s air defense forces and there were no casualties and destruction.

A fragment of a drone seen on the ground in the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv. Drones have become a big feature of warfare in Ukraine.

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also said Wednesday that drone strikes had been attempted in other parts of Ukraine and said the threat of strikes remains active throughout the territory.

“As of, this night, March 22, the enemy launched another massive air strike by the “Shakhed-136″ UAVs. According to preliminary information, 16 drones out of 21 launched by the enemy were destroyed by our defenders,” the military said in an update on Facebook.

Russia has been accused of using Iranian-made “Shahed” drones — essentially unmanned aerial vehicles likened to “propeller-driven cruise missiles” by analysts at the RUSI defense think tank (read more here) — to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for months. Drones have also hit civilian targets such as residential buildings too, however, although Russia says it does not intentionally target such infrastructure.

Also on Wednesday, Mykhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol — a port city in annexed Crimea where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based — said on Telegram that “early this morning, our fleet repelled an attack by surface drones” but added that Russia’s warships were not damaged.

A submarine and warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet lie at anchor in the port city of Sevastopol in 2019.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

He said a number of drones had been destroyed and that people were not hurt. “Our military confidently and calmly repulsed the attack of enemy drones on Sevastopol. The situation is under control,” Razvozhayev said on Telegram.

CNBC was unable to verify any of the claims made over drone strikes.

— Holly Ellyatt

China’s Xi leaves Moscow after mixed meeting with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave after a reception in honor of the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow, at the Kremlin, on March 21, 2023.

Grigory Sysoev | Sputnik | via Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Moscow on Wednesday morning after a three-day visit to the Russian capital that seemed to produce mixed results for the tentative allies.

China’s leader and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reaffirmed areas of strategic cooperation and plans to extend economic ties and increase trade up to 2030.

Both covertly criticized the West for its intervention in Ukraine, with the joint statement noting that “the two sides oppose the practice by any country or group of countries to seek advantages in the military, political and other areas to the detriment of the legitimate security interests of other countries.”

But there was little in terms of substance from the meeting and official statements from both sides disclosed few details on numbers or the timeline regarding the implementation of economic agreements.

Fred Kempe, the chief executive of the Atlantic Council, told CNBC that the summit could be summed up as being “Putin’s desperation meeting Xi’s opportunism.”

Unsurprisingly, Putin and Xi endorsed a 12-point peace plan China proposed last month as a way to bring about a cease-fire and peace in Ukraine, although Western analysts are skeptical about the plan, which does not detail how hostilities should be curbed or how to resolve both Ukraine’s aim to restore its territorial integrity and Russia’s claims to annexed Ukrainian land.

Given China’s preexisting alliance with Russia, there is cynicism about Beijing trying to position itself as an honest broker between Moscow and Kyiv.

— Holly Ellyatt

China-Russia talks yield no breakthrough on ending the Ukraine war

Ukraine probably isn't going to accept anything less than retaking all its territory from Russia

CNBC’s Ted Kemp says the 12-point peace plan that China proposed as a way to find a peaceful solution to the Ukraine war is a “non-starter,” adding that Ukraine is effectively winning the war and has Russia on the “proverbial backfoot.”

Yellen welcomes IMF deal with Ukraine for $15.6 billion in funding

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen welcomed an International Monetary Fund deal with Ukraine that provides $15.6 billion for a program that will support various reconstruction efforts and finance essential services across the war-weary country.

“This agreement is an important step towards a program and reflects months of collaborative work between the IMF and the Ukrainian government, supported by Treasury and other partners of Ukraine,” Yellen said in a statement.

“The United States will stand with the government and the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes in the face of Russia’s unjust, unlawful and immoral war,” Yellen added.

The IMF said the agreement is a “commitment to support Ukraine and is expected to help mobilize large-scale concessional financing from Ukraine’s international donors and partners over the duration of the program.”

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy discusses additional defense aid with Japan’s Kishida in Kyiv

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, left, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, shake hands during a news conference at the president’s residence, known as Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

Andrew Kravchenko | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv.

“It is symbolic that the Prime Minister is making his first visit to Ukraine today, on the day of the anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Ukrainian territories. And he started it from Bucha. We appreciate it very much,” Zelenskyy said alongside Kishida.

Zelenskyy described Kishida as a “truly powerful defender of the international order and a longtime friend of Ukraine.” He thanked him for Japan providing defense aid and imposing 18 sanctions packages on Russia.

The two leaders also discussed Ukraine’s military needs and agreed to keep talking about expanding security cooperation.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. speeds up Abrams tank delivery to Ukraine war zone

Abrams battle tanks from the US Army’s, 1st Armoured Battalion of the 9th Regiment, 1st Division from Fort Hood in Texas, part of the Atlantic resolve operation, arrive at the Pabrade railway station some 50 km (31 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

Mindaugas Kulbis | AP

The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and could be there before the end of the year. Officials said the M1A1 also will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russia’s invasion.

The officials spoke on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been publicly announced. Pentagon officials are expected to make the announcement Tuesday.

The Biden administration announced in January that it would send the tanks to Ukraine — after insisting for months that they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.

— Associated Press

NATO’s Stoltenberg warns China against delivering arms to Russia

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Saturday China is “watching closely” whether or not Russia succeeds in Ukraine.

Johannes Simon | Stringer | Getty Images News

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned China on Tuesday against supplying lethal weapons to Russia, as leaders of both countries were meeting in Moscow for talks.

“We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia, that would be to support an illegal war.”

— Reuters

What does China want from Russia in return for its help?

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

Pavel Byrkin | Afp | Getty Images

One of the big questions to emerge from China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow this week is the degree to which it could help Russia both on the battlefield, and off it — and what price it could extract for doing so.

It’s no secret that Russia would like China to help it out while it flounders in an economic and military quagmire brought about by its invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

International sanctions have restricted or cut off Moscow’s access to numerous Western markets, while the ongoing war in Ukraine shows all the signs of turning into a bloody stalemate that could, if it loses, cause seismic political change in Moscow.

While he’s in Moscow, President Xi and President Vladimir Putin have been discussing the war in Ukraine and China’s peace plan, according to the Kremlin’s spokesman. Unofficially, however, analysts say the presidents are also likely to discuss ways for China to help Russia without it risking being hit with Western sanctions itself.

For many close watchers of Russia and China’s deepening relationship over the past decade, the big question then is this: What could China want in return for helping Moscow?

Read here to find out more: Nothing comes for free: What China hopes to gain in return for helping Russia

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine says its forces have repelled Russian advances into Bakhmut

The head of Ukraine’s armed forces said they have repelled Russian attempts to advance into the center of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where fighting continues to be intense.

“Assault groups of the enemy try to advance from the outskirts to the center of the city, but the Defense Forces work and destroy them 24/7,” the Commander of Ukraine’s Ground Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Telegram on Tuesday.

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a S60 anti-aircraft gun at Russian positions near Bachmut on March 20, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

Both Russian and Ukrainian military officials have acknowledged the difficulty of fighting in and around Bakhmut in Donetsk, where battles have been raging for seven months. Russian forces are believed to almost encircle the city to the north, east and south but Ukraine recently vowed to continue defending the city.

Syrskyi said Tuesday that “intensive combat operations” were taking place along the entire front line in eastern Ukraine but that “the defense of Bakhmut continues.” There, he said, Russian equipment, manpower and warehouses “are constantly being destroyed.”

Russia sees the capture of Bakhmut as a stepping stone to other regional targets such as Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Given the extreme difficulty Russian units and mercenary fighters in the Wagner Group have had in fighting in and around Bakhmut alone, Russia’s ability (or appetite) to maintain a wider offensive in the region looks uncertain.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a M777 howitzer at Russian positions near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on March 17, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said Monday that “Russian forces made marginal gains in and around Bakhmut amid a reported increase in the tempo of Russian operations around Avdiivka,” a town south of Bakhmut and north of Donetsk city. 

“Russian forces likely made additional gains in southwestern and northern Bakhmut,” the ISW noted. Nonetheless, the ISW assessed “that the overall Russian spring offensive is likely approaching culmination, and Russian forces may be intensifying efforts to make even marginal gains before they lose the initiative in Ukraine.”

“It remains possible that Russian advances could prompt Ukraine to withdraw from Bakhmut and/or Avdiivka although neither appears likely at this time,” the ISW noted.

— Holly Ellyatt

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