Ukraine hit with deadly strikes after China’s Xi leaves Moscow; Zelenskyy visits frontline city Bakhmut

Ukraine hit with deadly strikes after China’s Xi leaves Moscow; Zelenskyy visits frontline city Bakhmut

This was CNBC’s live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine. See here for the latest updates. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Moscow on Wednesday morning after a three-day visit to the Russian capital that seemed to produced 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. They also both criticized the U.S. for undermining global strategic stability.

But there was little in terms of substance from the meeting and official statements from both sides, made after talks concluded Tuesday, disclosed few details about the implementation of economic agreements.

Fred Kempe, the chief executive of the Atlantic Council, told CNBC that China was exploiting Russia’s desperation for an alliance, saying the summit could be summed up as being “Putin’s desperation meeting Xi’s opportunism.”

In other news, both Ukrainian and Russian officials said separately that Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia, and Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, had been targeted by drone and missile attacks Wednesday morning.

The White House downplayed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presentation of an award to one of the pilots involved in the downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea.

“I don’t know of another military in the world that would award a pilot for ramming into a drone,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

“I gotta throw the flag on this one, I don’t know why they would throw a bravery award at a pilot who was at best, an idiot,” Kirby added.

Last week, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said its two fighter aircraft did not come in contact with the U.S. drone.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the federal department she oversees has imposed more than 2,500 Russia-related sanctions following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

“We have degraded the Kremlin’s ability to replace more than 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment that it has lost on the battlefield. We have also stabilized global energy markets and cut into the Kremlin’s revenues by implementing innovative caps on the price of Russian oil,” Yellen said in opening remarks before the Senate’s Financial Services and General Government subcommittee.

Yellen also referenced her visit to Kyiv in February, where she met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials.

“As part of a broad coalition, we are responsibly disbursing vital economic assistance to Ukraine,” Yellen said. She added that “in my visit to Kyiv a month ago, Ukrainian officials told me firsthand about the critical impact of our work.”

— Amanda Macias

A Utah-based drone system developed and manufactured by Fortem Technologies is helping Ukrainian forces capture drones used by Russia on the battlefield.

The counter-unmanned aerial system, dubbed Drone Hunter F700, was initially donated to Ukrainian forces at the start of the war and then made its combat debut on the battlefield in May.

In Ukraine, Drone Hunter, as its name implies, captures Russian surveillance and reconnaissance drones by shooting a net around them to either ground or tow the system away from the battlefield.

“The Ukrainians love the system because they are able to reuse some of the drones that they capture. They are actually getting additional assets out of this,” Jon Gruen, chairman and CEO at Fortem Technologies, told CNBC.

Warren Brown, Fortem Technologies vice president of marketing, echoed Gruen and said that in some cases, Ukrainian forces have been able to fingerprint the captured drones.

“If you explode the drone then you don’t have any reconnaissance of where it came and what it’s mission is,” Brown added.

Gruen explained that Fortem Technologies has developed the Drone Hunter system after receiving specific feedback from Ukrainian forces.

The counter-unmanned aerial system, which can be used completely autonomously, has recently been modified to help counter Iranian-made drones being used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Gruen said that Ukraine has about 10 of Fortem’s drones currently in operation, but that more are on the way.

“From start to finish it takes about three days to learn how to operate the system,” Gruen added.

— Amanda Macias

The United States has offered Slovakia 12 new military helicopters as compensation for the MiG-29 fighter jets the European country is giving to Ukraine, Slovakia’s defense minister.

Under the offer, Slovakia would pay $340 million for the Bell AH-1Z attack choppers in a deal worth about $1 billion that also includes 500 AGM-114 Hellfire II missiles and training, Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said.

U.S. foreign military financing would cover the other $660 million, he said. The European Union also would send Slovakia 200 million euros ($213 million) in additional compensation, Nad said.

The Slovak government still needs to accept the offer.

Nad said his country’s armed forces currently don’t have any combat helicopters and that the deal would “significantly increase the defense capability of Slovakia.”

— Associated Press

The Prince of Wales meets with British and Polish troops during a visit to the 3rd Brigade Territorial Defense Force base, in Rzeszow, Poland, that has been heavily involved in providing support to Ukraine.


Japan’s prime minister pledged to provide Poland with development support to help the European country assist neighboring Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia’s invasion.

Polish Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Warsaw a day after Kishida made a surprise visit to Kyiv and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Bearing in mind the increasing burden on Poland due to the prolonged invasion of Ukraine,” Kishida said Japan would offer Poland assistance to support its role and is looking to “vigorously build up” projects.

Japan usually provides the type of promised aid to developing countries, which Poland is no longer, but the Japanese government is making a special exception, he said.

— Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.N.-backed Black Sea Grain Initiative has “made a difference, but it’s fragile.”

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia accounted for almost a quarter of global grain exports, until those shipments came to a severe halt for nearly six months.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen. The deal was extended this month for 120 days, though, Moscow said it may drop the deal after 60 days.

“That grain was taken off the market by Russian aggression. I’m very glad that through the work of the United Nations and Turkey, we were able to get the Black Sea corridor going, but that’s a fragile thing. It’s made a difference, but it’s fragile,” Blinken said before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Since the deal was signed in July 2022, more than 700 ships carrying some 25 million metric tons of grain and foodstuffs have been delivered to more than 40 countries.

— Amanda Macias

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the last remaining backup power line at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant still needs to be repaired.

“Without the backup line, any damage to the 750 kV line [main external power line] will result in total loss of all off-site power to the plant,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

Grossi said that the backup power supply line has been disconnected and damaged since the beginning of March, and that the overall situation at the plant “remains perilous.”

“I once again call for a commitment from all sides to secure nuclear safety and security protection at the plant,” he said.

— Amanda Macias

Swedish lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of Sweden joining NATO, signing off on the country’s membership along with the required legislation.

The 349-seat parliament authorized Sweden’s accession to NATO in a 269-37 vote, with 43 lawmakers absent. It was the last required domestic hurdle to the country becoming part of the 30-member Western military alliance.

Six of the eight parties represented in parliament were in favor of NATO membership, and the vote that followed a nearly seven-hour debate was seen as a formality.

“Membership in NATO is the best way to safeguard Sweden’s security,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said during the deliberations. He called it “a historic event” and “one of the most important security policy decisions ever for our country.”

Speaking of the timetable for Sweden’s possible accession, Billström told lawmakers during the debate that “it goes without saying that we will be able to become members in Vilnius,” the Lithuanian capital, where a NATO summit is to be held in July.

— Associated Press

At least seven 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 “a total of 12 drones were shot down by security and defense forces in the Kyiv region during the attack by the occupiers.”

Nebytov said that nine people so far have been injured from the attack, which was carried out by Iranian-made drones.

— Amanda Macias

Three ships carrying 99,200 metric tons of agricultural products left Ukraine’s port of Odesa.

The vessels are destined for Ethiopia, Vietnam and Turkey, and are carrying wheat.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.

So far, more than 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports since the deal began.

— Amanda Macias

Chinese President Xi Jinping has returned to Beijing after a state visit to Russia between March 20 and 22, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with the Chinese leader that Chinese proposals could be used as the basis of a peace settlement in Ukraine, but that the West and Kyiv were not yet ready.

— Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit Ukrainian soldiers on the Bakhmut frontline in eastern Ukraine.

-Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A deadly Russian missile strike on the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia has left a large number of civilians injured and one person dead, according to a city official.

Anatoliy Kurtev, secretary of Zaporizhzhia city council, said on Telegram that emergency services were working to rescue people at the scene after two nine-story buildings came under Russian fire.

One person died in the attacks and a further 25 people have been hospitalized, Kurtev said.

“According to updated information, 25 people are currently in hospitals. 3 people are in serious condition, 19 are in moderate condition, 3 are in mild condition (two of them are children),” he said on Telegram in a post translated by NBC News.

Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, published comments this morning deploring the attack on Zaporizhzhia with the president saying Russia was striking the city with what he called “bestial savagery.” Russia has claimed it does not target civilian infrastructure.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Russian drone attack on a town near Kyiv killed four people, officials said.

— Holly Ellyatt

The city of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine has been hit by Russian missiles this morning with Ukrainian officials saying their search and rescue teams are looking for survivors and victims after the strikes.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a video on Telegram with a comment stating “Zaporizhzhia. Right now, a Russian missile hit a multi-storey building. Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery. Residential areas where ordinary people and children live are being fired at,” he said, adding that “this must not become ‘just another day’ in Ukraine or anywhere else in Europe or the world.”

The head of President Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Yermak, published several tweets saying Russian forces were “barraging Zaporizhzhia” with one tweet using the hashtag “#RussiaIsATerroristState” and the footage purportedly showing a missile strike on a residential building.

Russia has repeatedly insisted that it does not deliberately target civilian infrastructure, despite multiple instances where civilian buildings have been hit.

Elsewhere, the official channel of the Zaporizhia Regional Military Administration posted images of the destruction it said had been caused by two Russian missiles hitting a residential high-rise building.

The administration said that Russia had not been targeting any military installation and that the latest strike was “another war crime was committed in the middle of the day in a suburb area of a city.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s bid to seize Bakhmut in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, could be losing momentum, according to the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence.

“There is a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, partially because some Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense] units have been reallocated to other sectors,” the British defense ministry said in an intelligence update Wednesday.

It noted that Ukrainian forces had been able to initiate a local counterattack to the west of Bakhmut in recent days, a move that was likely to relieve pressure on the threatened H-32 supply route, one of the last main roads into the city that its Ukrainian defenders can use. 

However, it noted that “fighting continues around the town centre and the Ukrainian defence remains at risk from envelopment from the north and south.”

Russia and Ukraine have been fighting for control of Bakhmut for seven months and while analysts say seizing or defending the former industrial town has little strategic value for Russia or Ukraine per se, both sides have committed masses of manpower and hardware and neither wants to retreat.

— Holly Ellyatt

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Wednesday there was no nuclear escalation in the Ukraine war after Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Britain for supplying depleted uranium tank munitions to Ukrainian forces.

Britain had on Monday confirmed it was supplying Ukraine with ammunition which contained depleted uranium. The heavy metal is used in weapons because it can penetrate tanks and armour more easily due to its density, amongst other properties.

But Putin on Tuesday condemned British plans to send such ammunition to Ukraine, saying Moscow would be forced to respond accordingly as such weapons had “a nuclear component.”

Cleverly told reporters at an event in London that Russia was the only country talking about nuclear issues.

“There is no nuclear escalation,” he said. “The only country in the world that is talking about nuclear issues is Russia. There is no threat to Russia, this is purely about helping Ukraine defend itself.”

“It’s worth making sure everyone understands that just because the word uranium is in the title of depleted uranium munitions, they are not nuclear munitions, they are purely conventional munitions.”

Britain has used depleted uranium in its armour piercing shells for decades and does not consider those rounds as having a nuclear capability. Russia is known to also use ammunition containing depleted ammunition. It is a particular health risk around impact sites, where dust can get into people’s lungs and vital organs.

— 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 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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.”

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

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

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 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

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

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.

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.

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

Putin touts China’s peace plan after Xi talks; Russian mercenaries say Kyiv is mulling counterattack


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