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President Joe Biden visits with members of the 82nd Airborne Division at the G2A Arena. Evan Vucci
AS IT HAPPENED

As it happened: Russia declares 'first stage' of war over as Biden compares invasion to Tiananmen Square

The latest developments from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Mar 2022

HERE were the latest developments on the war in Ukraine as the conflict enters its second month. 

  • Russia declared the ‘first stage’ of its military campaign to be over.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to criticism of Russia by comparing it to Nazi book burnings, claiming that there is “progressive discrimination” against Russian culture. 
  • US President Joe Biden met US troops of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Jasionka near the Polish-Ukrainian border.
  • Ukrainian officials said around 300 people died in last week’s Russian strike on the Mariupol theatre where over a thousand civilians were sheltering.
  • About 100,000 civilians are said to be trapped in the southern port city with dwindling supplies of food, water and power, and with encircling Russian forces slowly grinding the city to dust.
  • Moscow refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. Russia is already accused of using phosphorus bombs and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas.
  • Around 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken against their will into Russia, according to Ukraine.
  • The Taoiseach played down the meaning behind Zelenskyy saying “Ireland, well, almost” in relation to EU support for Ukraine.
  • Ireland has accommodated 6,201 Ukrainian refugees since 26 February. 

Good morning. Garreth MacNamee here with you today to bring you the latest on the war in Ukraine. 

We are going to start with some breaking news. 

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister announced this morning that two humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of people from Mariupol (Donetsk region) and Melitopol (Zaporizhzhya region) have been agreed.

The US and the EU continue to try to hit Russia with economic sanctions. 

The pair have today announced a task force aimed at reducing Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels in the face of Moscow’s war.

The initiative being unveiled by President Joe Biden and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen will see the US strive to help supply Europe with an extra 15 billion cubic metres of liquefied natural gas this year, a statement said.

Death toll from Mariupol theatre bombing reaches 300

Ukrainian officials in the strategic port city of Mariupol said some 300 people could have died in last week’s Russian strike on a theatre where hundreds were sheltering.

“From eyewitnesses, information is emerging that about 300 people died in the Drama Theatre of Mariupol following strikes by a Russian aircraft,” Mariupol city hall wrote on Telegram.

There was widepsread condemnation of the shelling of the theatre which was housing women and children. 

More now on that US/EU taskforce to wean the West of Russian fossil fuels. 

Germany said it was drastically slashing its energy purchases from Russia with oil imports to be halved by June and coal deliveries to end by the autumn.

The EU has already announced amibitious plans to slash its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year and eliminate imports entirely before the end of the decade.

As part of the task force the EU’s executive said it will work with member states “toward the goal of ensuring, until at least 2030, demand for approximately 50 bcm/year of additional US LNG”.

“This Task Force for Energy Security will be chaired by a representative from the White House and a representative of the President of the European Commission,” the statement said.

Europe faces a major task in substituting supplies of Russian gas, with Moscow supplying around 150 billion cubic metres of gas each year. 

More news coming in to us here regarding civilian deaths after a bombing of a medical facility.

This from AFP: 

Russian strikes killed four civilians and wounded several others while targeting a medical facility in Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv.

“This morning, following a bombardment on civilian infrastructure from several rocket launchers, seven civilians were injured, four of them died,” said police in the eastern city near Russia’s border.

The strikes targeted a medical centre in the Osnovyansky district of the city, police said.

An update closer to home now.

The Irish Red Cross (IRC) has said its Ukraine emergency appeal now amounts to €20 million (Public €15 million, Business €5 million).

The Irish Red Cross is also focused on supporting the newly arrived refugees in Ireland by providing meet, greet and transport services at airports and ferry ports, psychosocial first aid, information and voucher supports to  assist with their immediate food and non-food needs.

The IRC has said it is also working with the general public and Government as it continues in assisting sourcing accommodation for refugees in vacant and shared homes throughout the country. The IRC said it has allocated an initial budget of €1.5 million to these supports .

Music has become an aspect of this war, with many people playing songs to show their opposition to the Russian invasion. 

Here is a man playing a traditional Ukrainian song with the bombed out apartment blocks of Kharkiv in the background. 

The Kremlin has this morning denied violating international law with phosphorus bombs.

However, the governor of the Lugansk region said phosphorus bombs were used in one village hit in strikes on eastern Ukraine last week that killed at least four people, including two children.

Britain’s ITV network, earlier this week, broadcast footage of phosphorus bombs dropping on the flashpoint town of Irpin near Kyiv.

The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not been overly enamoured by the Irish support of his nation during the war.

Zelenskyy offered only qualified thanks to Ireland for its support for the country since the Russian invasion a month ago.

Addressing the European Council, Volodymyr Zelensky namechecked EU member states – noting in turn what he saw as the level of support the country had given Ukraine.

“Ireland, well, almost,” Mr Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian leader offered no further reasons for his comment.

Ireland has not abandoned its position of military neutrality in the face of the Russian assault.

Some more breaking news this morning as Ukraine has called on the European Union to close land, sea and air connections with Russia and Belarus, to tighten a sanctions package the West imposed.

The infrastructure ministry said in a statement it was calling on the bloc to “completely block land and sea connections with Russia and Belarus,” as part of proposals to “increase economic pressure” on the countries.

Gráinne Ní Aodha here taking the liveblog over from Garreth, who is off to follow up on this story… 

On the strike on the Mariupol theatre, more than 1,300 people had been sheltering in the building Ukrainian authorities said.

It’s now thought that about 300 people died in the Russian air strike on 16 March, though it’s not yet clear whether emergency workers have finished excavating the site.

Taoiseach responds to Zelenskyy’s “Ireland, well, almost” comment

The Taoiseach has responded to Zelenskyy’s “Ireland, well, almost” comment, made when namechecked EU countries and what level of support they had given to Ukraine.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, speaking on the second day of the European Council meeting in Brussels, played down the comments.

He insisted that Zelenskyy “was actually talking in terms of the European perspective”.

He said: “I wouldn’t have taken the same slant as some may be taking from it.

“I can’t surmise in terms of what implication there is except I spoke to him last week and he was very strongly in praise of the Irish contribution, both from a humanitarian perspective, in terms of our clear support for Ukraine’s application to join the EU, and he thanked me personally for my own personal commitment to that.”

“I am not going to surmise in terms of whatever particular take you would take from the use ‘almost’ or ‘practically’.”

Make what you will of that.

The latest of the reports this week that Ukrainian forces seem to be pushing the Russian invasion back.

Here’s the Taoiseach, fresh from isolation in Washington.

He says US President Joe Biden gave a “strong contribution” to EU leaders on the interdependence of US-EU democracies, and the importance of the EU to the US.

Ukrainian forces are driving back the Russians from around Kyiv, British military intelligence has said, as British PM Boris Johnson said they can “certainly win” against the invaders.

“Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Kyiv,” the British Ministry of Defence said.

US President Joe Biden is to visit Rzeszów, near the Polish-Ukrainian border today, where energy and refugee issues are expected to be at the centre of talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

He will get a briefing on humanitarian aid efforts to assist fleeing refugees and he will meet with US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division who have been deployed in recent weeks to bolster NATO’s eastern flank.

Billions of dollars of military hardware have already been provided to Ukraine. A US official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, told PA that Western nations were discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid concerns that Russia will launch amphibious assaults along the Black Sea coast.

You can see why those anti-ship weapons might be handy, as Russia said earlier that it has destroyed Ukraine’s largest remaining military fuel storage site in a Kalibr cruise missile strike.

“On the evening of March 24, Kalibr high-precision sea-based cruise missiles attacked a fuel base in the village of Kalynivka near Kyiv,” the Russian defence ministry said, adding that the base was supplying troops in the central part of the country.

Putin compares criticism of Russia to Nazi book burning

Russian President Vladimir Putin has just given a live address where he compared criticisms of Russia to Nazi book burnings.

The Soviet Union’s role in defeating Hitler’s Germany in 1945 remains a huge point of pride in Russia and lies at the centre of Putin’s patriotic discourse.

Putin has denounced the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” and compared the sanctions to “anti-Semitic pogroms carried out by Nazis”.

Putin’s comments are echoed by his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Today, Lavrov compared Europe’s tactics to those of Nazi Germany, slamming historic sanctions against Moscow and saying the term “total war” has been borrowed from Hitler’s playbook.

“They have declared a true hybrid war, a total war against us,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting in Moscow.

“This term – used by Nazi Germany – is now used by many European politicians when they say what they want to do with Russia.”

He said European officials were making no secret of their goals – to “destroy, break, annihilate and suffocate the economy and Russia as a whole.”

Moscow has tried to justify its invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it aims to “de-militarise” and “de-Nazify” the country.

Putin has denounced the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” and compared the sanctions to “anti-Semitic pogroms [massacre] carried out by Nazis”.

A quote in from AFP of what Putin said:

“Today they are trying to cancel a thousand-year-old country – I am talking about the progressive discrimination against everything connected with Russia,” Putin said in televised remarks, mentioning Russian music and literature. 

“The last time such a mass campaign to destroy unwanted literature was carried out was by the Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago.”

UK intelligence indicates what the latest military situation in Ukraine is.

Just in: US President Joe Biden has landed in Poland where he is to visit Rzeszów, near the Ukraine border.

The new main photo of the Liveblog:

kyiv-kyiv-ukraine-24th-mar-2022-a-ukrainian-soldier-stands-guard-with-a-gun-at-a-military-checkpoint-picture-taken-with-permission-from-the-personnel-amid-russian-invasion-russian-offensive-a A Ukrainian soldier stands guard with a gun at a military checkpoint at Kyiv. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Russian army has updated its losses in Ukraine to 1,351 soldiers, while saying that it had evacuated more than 400,000 civilians and condemning Western supplies of weapons to Kyiv.

At a Moscow briefing, senior military officials gave the first update on Russian deaths in weeks and said 419,736 civilians had been evacuated from Ukraine.

A senior representative of the General Staff, Sergei Rudskoi, said: “We consider a huge mistake the supplies of arms to Kyiv by Western countries. That prolongs the operation.”

The United States has “no intention” of using chemical weapons under any circumstance even if Russia uses such weapons in Ukraine, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said. 

“There will be a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons. And I won’t go beyond that other than to say the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance,” he told reporters on board Air Force One.

Sullivan said there was now a “convergence” between Western leaders on what measures to take in case Russia uses chemical weapons and added that the White House had set up a working group on the issue.

“We have made considerable efforts to put ourselves in a position to respond effectively,” he said, shortly before a plane carrying US President Joe Biden landed in Poland. 

Russia has said there had been no progress on the main political issues at talks with Ukraine, 30 days into Moscow’s military campaign in the pro-Western country.

“On minor issues, positions are drawing closer now, but on major political issues we are actually marking time,” Kremlin aide Vladimir Medinsky told reporters, Russian news agencies reported.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had a “frank and candid discussion” with China’s President Xi Jinping about the situation in Ukraine, Downing Street has said.

A No 10 spokesman said the two leaders spoke by telephone for almost an hour today.

“The leaders discussed a range of issues of mutual interest – including the situation in the Ukraine,” the spokesman said.

“It was a frank and candid conversation lasting almost an hour. They agreed to speak again soon.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban dismissed an EU summit appeal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia as it would be “against Hungary’s interests”.

The leader “rejected (Zelenskyy’s) demands at the European Council because they are contrary to the interests of Hungary,” said Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs.

“Hungary wants to stay out of this war, so it will not allow the transfer of arms and weapons to Ukraine,” Kovacs said in a statement.

An update here from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth about the rehoming of Ukrainian refugees here. 

A total of 6,201 people have been accommodated since 26 February.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman said: “We are facing a humanitarian crisis on a scale never before seen in Ireland. We remain steadfast in our solidarity with the plight of people who have been displaced by the war in Ukraine, and we continue to extend a welcome to the many people who have arrived here seeking safety and shelter.”

Biden is in Poland and is meeting with US troops stationed there. 

He’s even sat down for a slice of pizza. 

Some 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion a month ago, the UN said today.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said 3,725,806 Ukrainians had fled the country — an increase of 50,854 from the previous day’s figure.

Hello, Gráinne back on the liveblog here after a quick break.

Let’s start with this brave statement from a local Moscow newspaper.

There are some interesting reports bubbling about Russia’s Colonel Yuri Medvechek.

The general gist of the reports is that his own troops ran him over after their brigade suffered heavy losses – but there are conflicting reports on whether he survived or not, with some reporting that his legs were crushed but that he survived.

An interesting thread on the possible shifting of Russian objections in Ukraine.

It’s possible that “liberation of Donbas” rather than “demilitarization and denazification” of the entire country, might be their latest aim. Basically, a retreat.

Important to emphasise that this is just speculation of what Rudskoi’s comments might mean.

 

On the issue of “denazification”, here’s Ros Atkins and his BBC team explaining where the claims of “nazification of Ukraine” came from, and why it’s being mentioned so much by Russia in relation to its invasion of Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden visits US troops stationed in Jasionka, Poland.

russia-ukraine-war-us-europe Evan Vucci Evan Vucci

Adding to reports of that Russian colonel being run over with a tank, is this story that indicates the level of dissatisfaction among Russian troops. 

There’s a trend of analyisis emerging today that the Russians might accept taking the Donbas region and the corridor that links that to Crimea as a win.

In one of the more bizarre moments of the day, Vladimir Putin singled out British author JK Rowling, who has been widely criticised following controversial tweets about the transgender community.

“Not so long ago children’s author JK Rowling was cancelled because she, a writer of books that have sold millions of copies around the world, didn’t please fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Putin said.

Russian army declares ‘first stage’ of campaign is over

The Russian army has said that the first phase of its military campaign in Ukraine was over and troops would now focus on the complete “liberation” of the country’s eastern Donbas region.

“The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” said Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces.

“The combat potential of Ukraine’s armed forces has been significantly reduced, which allows (us) — I emphasise once again — to focus our main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas.”

He said Russian forces had “practically” destroyed Ukraine’s air force and anti-aircraft defences as well as the navy.

At the same time, Rudskoi said the Russian army did not rule out attacks on cities, claiming that originally such assaults had not been planned.

“Initially, we did not plan to storm them in order to prevent destruction and minimise losses among personnel and civilians,” he told reporters.

“Although we do not rule out such a possibility, however, as individual groupings complete their assigned tasks… our forces and means will concentrate on the main thing — the complete liberation of Donbas,” he said, referring to eastern Ukraine.

Senior military officials addressed journalists in Moscow on the 30th day of the Kremlin’s military campaign in Ukraine.

There are reports that a joint team has been formed to investigate Russia’s actions and potential war crimes.

Prosecutors general of Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland signed an agreement to jointly work on collection, storage and exchange of evidence of Russia’s war crimes, Ukraine-based Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has told Ukrainian media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing “fake” information about Russia’s actions abroad, as Moscow’s troops continue their military operation in Ukraine.

The bill, adopted by Russia’s parliament this week, sets out jail terms and fines for people who publish “knowingly false information” about actions abroad by Russian government agencies.

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