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Live blog: UN-backed inquiry accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including alleged systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, according to a report from a UN-backed inquiry released on Thursday.

The sweeping human rights report, released a year to the day after a Russian air strike on a theatre in Mariupol killed hundreds sheltering inside, marked a highly unusual condemnation of a member of the UN Security Council.

Among potential crimes against humanity, the report cited repeated attacks targeting Ukrainian infrastructure since the fall that left hundreds of thousands without heat and electricity during the coldest months, as well as the “systematic and widespread” use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation.

The investigation also found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory, including deported Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a “filtration” system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.

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1905 GMT – Polish MiGs to Ukraine ‘does not change’ US opposition to sending jets: White House

Poland’s move to become the first country to send MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine does not alter the US decision against sending its own fighter aircraft to Kiev, the White House said.

“It doesn’t change our calculus with regards to F16s,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, referring to the US-built fighter jet. Poland’s move “does not affect, does not change” that.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters on a visit to Niger, alluded to the heavy costs of US fighter jets.

“I think it’s a mistake to get focused on any particular weapons system at any given time,” Blinken said.

He said it was important “not only to make sure that the Ukrainians have the right weapons system but that they can use it.”

1905 GMT – German Chancellor Scholz sees prolonged war in Ukraine: newspaper

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not expect the war in Ukraine to end soon, he told business daily Handelsblatt on Thursday, confirming Berlin would support Kyiv as long as it is necessary with money and arms.

“We should be prepared for a prolonged war, even if an early end would be desirable,” Scholz was quoted as saying, adding that it remained absolutely vital that China not supply Russia with weapons. 

1902 GMT – Pentagon: Russia likely trying to recover US drone debris in Black Sea

The United States has indications that Russia is likely trying to recover debris from the US drone downed after a Russian intercept over the Black Sea, the Pentagon said on Thursday, even as it played down Moscow’s prospects for success.

“We do have indications that Russia is likely making an effort to try to recover MQ-9 debris … however, we assess it’s very unlikely that they would be able to recover anything useful,” said Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian ships had been seen near the area where the drone had crashed, though they did not appear to have recovered any parts of the drone yet.
It was not clear if they were still in the area. 

1515 GMT – China hopes Russia and Ukraine will hold peace talks, says senior Chinese diplomat

China is concerned about an escalation of the war in Ukraine and hopes Moscow and Kiev will hold peace talks, senior Chinese diplomat Qin Gang told his Ukrainian counterpart on a phone call on Thursday.

China, which has refrained from condemning Russia for its military operation in Ukraine, has urged both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation leading to a comprehensive ceasefire in its 12-point paper on the “political resolution of the Ukraine crisis”.

The plan, which received a lukewarm welcome on both sides, called for the protection of civilians and respect for each other’s sovereignty.

“China hopes that all parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and resume peace talks as soon as possible,” Qin told Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

1236 GMT – Poland to transfer four MiG-29 planes to Ukraine in coming days: Warsaw

Polish President Andrzej Duda has announced that Warsaw would deliver an initial batch of four Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine soon.

“In the coming days we will first transfer, if I remember correctly, four fully operational planes to Ukraine,” Duda told reporters.

The announcement comes as the Polish interior minister said authorities have broken up a Russian espionage network operating in the country and detained nine people it says were preparing acts of sabotage and monitoring rail routes to Ukraine.

An ally of Ukraine and hub for deliveries of weapons to Kiev’s armed forces, Poland says it has regularly found itself the target of Russian efforts to destabilise the country.

1030 GMT – Türkiye commemorates ‘illegal annexation’ of Crimea

Türkiye has commemorated the illegitimate referendum held on March 16 by Russia, and stressed that the Crimean Peninsula was “annexed in violation of international law.”

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-time policy against recognising the illegal annexation of Crimea on the occasion of its ninth anniversary and voiced support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“The situation of the Crimean Tatar Turks, who are the principal constituents of Crimea, is always a priority for our country,” said the ministry.

1017 GMT – Pentagon releases footage of Russian jet dumping fuel on drone

The Pentagon has released footage of what it says is a Russian aircraft conducting an unsafe intercept of a US Air Force surveillance drone in international airspace over the Black Sea.

The 42-second video shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 Reaper drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes, the Pentagon said.

The US military said it ditched the MQ-9 Reaper in the sea Tuesday after the Russian fighter jet poured fuel on the unmanned aerial vehicle and then struck its propeller.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley have spoken to their Russian counterparts about the destruction of the US drone following the encounter with Russian fighter jets.

0909 GMT – Important to ensure quick munition for Ukraine: Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that it was crucial to provide Ukraine as soon as possible with fresh munitions to resist Russia’s offensive.

“It is very important that we quickly supply Ukraine with the necessary munitions,” Scholz told the lower house of parliament, promising action at an EU summit next week.

0843GMT – No signs of Ukraine withdrawing from Bakhmut – Russian official

The situation for Russian forces trying to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is “difficult” because there are no signs Kiev is ready to order a withdrawal of its troops, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine’s Donetsk region has said.

Russia, which refers to the city by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk, says capturing the city will allow it to launch more offensives deeper into Ukrainian territory which it says it is fighting to “liberate”.

“The situation in Artyomovsk remains complex and difficult,” Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed head of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, said in an interview on state TV on Thursday.

“That is, we do not see that there is any premise that the enemy is going to simply withdraw units,” he added.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin has said his forces are in control of practically half the city and only one exit road remains available to Ukraine.

0830 GMT – Poland breaks up spy network, says defence minister

Poland has broken up an espionage network operating in the country, the defence minister said.

RMF reported on Wednesday that Polish security services had detained six people suspected of spying for Russia. According to the broadcaster, the group had been planning sabotage activities.

TRT World was unable to independently confirm the report.

0038 GMT – Moldova no longer receiving Russian gas

Ex-Soviet Moldova is no longer receiving Russian gas or enduring the “blackmail” imposed by gas giant Gazprom over its difficulties in paying for supplies, the country’s energy minister has said.

Victor Parlicov, speaking to TV8 television evening, said Gazprom had been providing supplies only to Moldova’s Russian-backed Transdniestria separatist region since December, with none going to central authorities in Chisinau.

He said Moldova, wedged between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, was able to secure European supplies thanks to $318 million in credits from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

But Transdniestria, he said, has never paid Gazprom for the gas it receives.

“Transdniestria didn’t pay for gas before and it’s not paying now,” Parlicov said. “Gazprom puts up with debts from there. But when the (rest of Moldova) was getting gas, the Russian company resorted to supply cuts, to blackmail.”

2223 GMT – France accused of slowing Ukraine aid

France has been accused of slowing down a European Union $2.12 billion package for purchasing weapons for Ukraine by demanding that the munitions be manufactured inside the bloc, The Telegraph reported.

“Paris wanted guarantees that a deal to jointly procure weapons would only benefit firms based in the EU,” the newspaper reported, quoting European sources.

2121 GMT – Ukraine’s Zelenskyy dismisses three governors

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has issued decrees dismissing three regional governors.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai, Odesa Governor Maksym Marchenko and Khmelnytskyi Governor Serhiy Hamaliy were relieved of their duties, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Presidency.

A number of Ukrainian officials have either stepped down or have been relieved of their duties since January 24 after Zelenskyy declared that he would reshuffle officials at various levels in ministries and central and local administrative bodies as well as in law enforcement to build “a strong state.”

For our live updates from Wednesday (March 15), click here.

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