Turkey will start ratifying Finland’s NATO application; International court issues arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes

Turkey will start ratifying Finland’s NATO application; International court issues arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes

This was CNBC’s live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on March 17, 2023. See here for the latest updates. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Russia early next week, China’s Foreign Ministry announced, in a trip that would be the leader’s first trip to Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

In a major shift, Poland announced it will be sending four of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, something that Kyiv has been pleading for since the war began. It will be the first delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine from any NATO ally. Slovakia followed suit one day later, pledging to send 13 of its MiG jets to Ukraine, though they are not all said to be currently operational.

Meanwhile, the battle for Bakhmut rages on, as Russian and Wagner Group forces manage to gain ground west of the Bakhmutka river. The negotiating parties involved in the Black Sea grain deal continue to push for an longer extension of the deal, but the Kremlin says it will only extend it for 60 days.

Five ships carrying 210,032 metric tons of agricultural products left Ukraine’s ports of Yuzhny-Pivdennyi, Chornomorsk and Odesa.

Two ships are destined for China and are carrying sunflower meal and corn. Two more ships are headed to Libya and are carrying sunflower meal and corn. The fifth ship is destined for Portugal and is carrying corn.

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.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger for his decision to supply Kyiv with MiG-29 fighter jets.

Zelenskyy described the latest security assistance from Slovakia as “powerful.”

“I appreciate his personal role in supporting Ukraine. I look forward to continuing our dialogue in Kyiv,” Zelenskyy added.

— Amanda Macias

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year, there have been at least 859 attacks on vital health services in the country, the World Health Organization’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care estimates.

The organization reports that healthcare facilities were damaged 766 times, ambulances were targeted in 104 cases and at least 215 attacks affected crucial medical supplies. The group also estimated that attacks on health services led to at least 101 deaths and 136 injuries.

The Kremlin has previously denied that it targets civilian infrastructure like hospitals, schools and apartment buildings.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the International Crime Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin as “historic.”

“The head of the terrorist state and another Russian official have officially become suspects in a war crime. The deportation of Ukrainian children is the illegal transfer of thousands of our children to Russian territory,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel.

“Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children on Russian territory, scattering them in remote regions – all this is obviously Russian state policy, state decisions, state evil,” Zelenskyy said, according to an NBC News translation.

Zelenskyy also thanked the ICC’s prosecutor Karim Khan for his work in investigating Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC News that there is “no doubt” that Russia is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

“President Biden has been very clear, since the beginning of this war, that we’re going to look for ways to make sure that Russia is held accountable for the war crimes for the atrocities that they are perpetrating against the Ukrainian people,” Kirby told Kristen Welker of NBC News.

Kirby’s comments come on the heels of the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes committed during his invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

The White House welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to approve Finland’s membership in the NATO alliance.

“We encourage Turkey to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

Sullivan added that NATO ally Hungary should also work to conclude “its ratification process for both Finland and Sweden without delay.”

“Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security. The United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible,” Sullivan said.

In May, Sweden and Finland began the formal process of applying to NATO. All 30 members of the alliance have to ratify the countries’ entry into the group. In August, U.S. President Joe Biden signed ratification documents following a 95-1 Senate vote to bring Finland and Sweden into NATO.

— Amanda Macias

The White House welcomed the recent decision by Poland and Slovakia to provide Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the move to send the fighter jets did not “have any impact or effect on our own sovereign decision-making when it comes to F-16s.”

He added that the White House was aware that Warsaw and Bratislava were considering this security assistance decision.

— Amanda Macias

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Putin over alleged war crimes committed during his invasion of Ukraine.

The world’s highest court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

The court wrote in a statement that Putin and Lvova-Belova are “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

The Kremlin has previously denied that its forces commit war crimes or deliberately targeted civilians. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

The State Department approved a foreign military sale to Poland for Hellfire Missiles as allies look to restock their arsenals amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Lockheed Martin-made AGM-114R2 Hellfire missiles and related equipment will cost an estimated $150 million.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” the State Department wrote in a statement announcing the sale.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian workers prepare ballistic plates for bulletproof vests at a factory in Kharkiv.

— Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

The Kremlin said that any fighter jets sent by NATO countries to Ukraine will be destroyed.

“Of course, the supply of this equipment, as we have repeatedly said, cannot affect the outcome of the special military operation, but it can create additional troubles for Ukraine itself and the Ukrainian people,” he said,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to a Russian state media report.

Peskov also added that during the so-called special military operation, all of this security assistance will be subject to destruction, according to an NBC News translation.

The Kremlin’s announcement comes on the heels of Poland and Slovakia’s decision to provide MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Turkey announced its decision to approve Finland’s membership in the NATO alliance.

“Due to the sensitivity to address our security concerns, we have decided to start the approval process of Finland’s NATO accession protocol in our parliament, “President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, according to a readout from the Turkish government.

“NATO will become stronger with Finland’s membership and I believe it will play an active role in maintaining global security and stability,” he added.

Erdogan said that Turkey will continue to have discussions with Sweden, citing security concerns, in regard to NATO membership.

Last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said allies should wrap up the ratification process for both Sweden and Finland.

“It is now time for all allies to conclude the ratification process and welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of the alliance ahead of the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius,” Stoltenberg said last week during a meeting with representatives from Finland, Sweden and Turkey, according to a NATO readout.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented awards to the Su-27 fighter jet pilots that made close passes with and then sprayed fuel onto a U.S. surveillance drone over the Black Sea, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

The incident Tuesday was the first direct encounter between Russia and the U.S. since the start of the Ukraine war. The U.S. called it a reckless and dangerous act of harassment, while Moscow argued the U.S. was violating Russian airspace.

Russian and U.S. defense chiefs held rare phone calls the on Wednesday after the incident to discuss what had happened. Moscow initially denied any encounter had taken place, insisting that the drone crashed because of its own movements and because it was “provocatively” flying close to its airspace near Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

The Pentagon released a video shortly thereafter confirming the U.S. account of the incident, where an approaching jet can be seen dumping a chemical substance over the drone. The drone later crashed into the sea, and although the Pentagon said it remotely wiped the drone of its data, it is unlikely to be able to retrieve it, whereas the Russians will likely be able to do so themselves.

Shoigu on Friday presented the Russian pilots with awards for “preventing the violation of the borders of the special operation area by the American MQ-9 Reaper drone,” RIA reported.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv will reduce its wartime curfew by an hour in the evenings, the Kyiv city administration chief Serhiy Popko said, in a measure aimed at supporting businesses affected by the curfew.

The curfew period will soon start at midnight instead of 11:00 p.m., which Popko said will allow for more time for public transport and “should help reduce social tension, increase production, create new jobs.”

Residents of Kyiv and other cities around Ukraine have been subject to regional curfews since the war began, with people who are still out beyond the designated times having to face fines and questioning from police patrolling the streets.

Bars and restaurants had to close by 9:30 p.m. to allow staff to get home, while some venues in Kyiv started running daytime events on weekends, with much of the profits going to Ukraine’s armed forces. Closing times will now be moved to 10:30 p.m. instead, officials said.

— Natasha Turak

The UK is calling on China to ask Russian leader Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine during Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s Russia visit next week.

“If China wants to play a genuine role in restoring sovereignty to Ukraine, then we would obviously welcome that,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

“We’re clear that any peace deal which is not predicated on Ukraine’s sovereignty and self determination is not a peace deal at all. So we will continue to call on China, as we have done before, to join other countries across the world in calling on Putin to withdraw his troops,” the spokesperson added.

China’s foreign ministry and the Kremlin both confirmed Friday that Xi would be making a visit to Moscow from March 20 to 22, at Putin’s invitation, which will be the Chinese premier’s first visit to Russia since the full-scale war in Ukraine began.

The two countries celebrated a partnership with “no limits” in early 2022, just before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Beijing still refuses to call Russia’s actions an invasion or take part in Western sanctions against Russia.

— Natasha Turak

Slovakia’s government approved a measure to send its Soviet-era MiG jets to Ukraine, officials said. The jets are in varying states of readiness and were retired last summer, so will likely need substantial maintenance to be operational.

The Eastern European NATO member announced it would send 13 of the jets to Ukraine, one day after Poland said it would supply Kyiv with four of its jets. Ukraine has long requested fighter jets in order to protect its skies against Russian attacks and combat Russian forces in the country.

“#Slovak gov. just approved sending 13 #MiG29s to #Ukraine! Promises must be kept&when ZelenskyyUa asked for more #weapons incl. fighter jets, I said we’ll do our best. Glad others’re doing the same,” Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger wrote on Twitter.

NATO allies’ granting of Kyiv’s request more than a year into the war signals a significant shift in their willingness to send Ukraine advanced weaponry that could further provoke Russia as well as give Ukrainian forces a major edge in the fighting.

— Natasha Turak

Russian and Wagner Group forces have gained ground in the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where brutal fighting has continued for months, Britain’s Ministry of Defense wrote in its daily intelligence update.

“In recent days, Russian and Wagner Group forces have obtained footholds west of the Bakhmutka River in the centre of the contested Donbas town of Bakhmut. Over the preceding week, the river had marked the front line. Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to defend the west of the town,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.

However, it added, “more broadly across the front line, Russia is conducting some of the lowest rates of local offensive action that has been seen since at least January 2023.”

That’s likely because “Russian forces have temporarily depleted the deployed formations’ combat power to such an extent that even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable,” and Russian leaders “will likely seek to regenerate the offensive potential of the force once personnel and munition stocks are replenished,” it said.

— Natasha Turak

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit Russia from March 20 to 22, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Friday.

This is Xi’s first visit to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in late February last year. The two leaders last met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in September.

The ministry said the visit was at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request. It did not specify whether Putin would meet with Xi.

The visit comes as China called again for a ceasefire in the Russia-Ukraine war and for peace talks to resolve the conflict that began just over a year ago.

Beijing has refused to call Moscow’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine an invasion.

— Evelyn Cheng

Poland will send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in coming days, the president said on Thursday, making it the first of Kyiv’s allies to provide such aircraft.

One of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, Warsaw has taken a leading role in persuading sometimes hesitant allies to provide Kyiv with heavy weaponry. It has said that any transfer of jets would be as part of a coalition.

“Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order,” Andrzej Duda told a news conference.

“The rest are being prepared, serviced.”

On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that deliveries could be made in four to six weeks. Duda said that Poland had roughly 10-20 MiG 29 jets.

NATO allies in the former communist east such as Poland and Slovakia have been particularly vocal supporters of Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Slovakia has also been considering whether to send MiG-29 jets to Ukraine but has yet to reach a decision. Poland has sent 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Asked last week how many MiG-29 planes Warsaw might supply, the head of the president’s office, Pawel Szrot, said it would “certainly not” be as many as 14.

— Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again called for a tribunal to punish Russia for war crimes alleged to have been committed over more than a year of its invasion of Ukraine.

“The day will come and a tribunal will be created that will restore justice to our people. A tribunal that will punish this aggressor in the same way that past aggressors were punished,” he said in a nightly address, according to an NBC News translation.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is “mobilizing all partners necessary for this.”

A U.N.-backed inquiry accused Russia of war crimes including torture and attacks on civilians.

Russia has previously said it does not target civilians.

— Jacob Pramuk

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “imperative” that Russia allow the deal that reopened key Ukrainian ports to continue.

Speaking during a trip to Niger, the top U.S. diplomat said the Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped to alleviate food insecurity caused by the war and a Russian naval blockade, which held up critical Ukrainian agriculture exports to the world.

“So millions of people around the world and especially here in Africa, rely on this initiative to help deal with food insecurity. It’s imperative that it continue, and it’s imperative that Russia allow it to continue,” he said, according to NBC News.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are holding discussions on extending the agreement.

— Jacob Pramuk

Watch the moment Russian jets intercept U.S. drone; Poland to send fighter aircraft to Ukraine


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