Russia-Ukraine war live: Russian cruise missiles destroyed in Crimea, says Ukraine; Xi and Putin to hold formal talks

Key events

Zelenskiy hails EU deal to supply a million rounds of shells is a ‘strategic step’ towards victory

In his nightly address, Vlodymyr Zelenskiy has thanked Europe and the US for their latest aid packages:

Our European partners have agreed on a joint plan to accelerate the supply of shells for our artillery…. This is a strategic step. It gives us confidence in our unity, in the immutability of the movement towards victory over the terrorist state.

… A new defence package from the United States was also announced today. The amount is $350m. These are rockets for HIMARS [high mobility artillery rocket systems], artillery shells and other ammunition – everything we really need to support our warriors.

You can read more about the EU deal from my colleague Jennifer Rankin:

Russia to hold UN meeting on Ukrainian children taken to Russia

Russia plans to hold an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council in early April on what it says is “the real situation” of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, the Associated Press reports.

The issue has gained the spotlight following the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to their abduction.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told a news conference Monday that Russia planned the council meeting long before Friday’s announcement by the ICC. Russia holds the rotating presidency of the council in April.

The court said it was seeking Putin’s arrest because he “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of (children) and that of unlawful transfer of (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

The announcement of the warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, was welcomed by Ukraine as a first step toward accountability by Russia for crimes following its Feb. 14, 2022, invasion.

It was dismissed by Moscow, which is not one of the 123 countries that are parties to the court, calling the action “legally void” and “outrageous.”

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan was quoted by the Courthouse News Service as telling Russia during a conference of justice ministers from more than 30 countries in London on Monday: “Return the children, repatriate the children.”

Russia’s Nebenzia called the issue of the children “totally overblown” and said Moscow wants to explain at the Security Council meeting, around April 6, that they were taken to Russia “simply because we wanted to spare them of the danger that military activities may bring.”

Nebenzia was asked whether Russia planned on returning the children. The Russian envoy replied:

When conditions are safe, of course. Why not?

Russian forces have made marginal gains around Bakhmut, according to the Institute of the Study of War.

Their evidence is based on:

Geolocated footage posted on March 19 showed that Russian forces made marginal advances in northern Bakhmut.

A Russian source claimed on March 18 that Wagner forces control around 70% of Bakhmut as of March 17.

Russian news aggregator Readovka claimed on March 19 fighting takes place around Avangard Stadium.

Geolocated footage published on March 19 showed Ukrainian forces repelling Russian assaults in southwestern Bakhmut.

Russian sources claimed that Wagner forces crossed the Bakhmutka River as of March 10.

Russia launches 21 air and 9 missile strikes, Ukraine military says

Russia has launched 21 air and nine missile strikes in the last 24 hours, according to the daily operational report from the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces.

The report said there were no civilian casualties. One strike was in the city of Sloviansk, and another hit Kramatorsk, which damaged seven multi-storey buildings and three private cars.

The military says the probability of missile strikes across Ukraine remains quite high.

The report said Russia’s focus remains on offensives in the Limansky, Bakhmutsky, Avdiiv, Maryinsky and Shakhtar regions.

Ukraine has repelled more than 120 Russian attacks in the reporting period, the general staff says.

Charlotte Graham-McLay

Reports of the death of New Zealander in Ukraine

New Zealand’s foreign ministry says it is aware of “reports” of the death of a New Zealander in Ukraine.

The ministry said in an unattributed statement:

These reports have not been able to be officially verified at this time.

National news outlets, including Radio New Zealand, reported that the person was a former New Zealand soldier. The defence ministry declined to comment. New Zealand does not have troops deployed to Ukraine.

This would be the third New Zealander known to have died while fighting in the war. Dominic Abelen, a New Zealand soldier who had not told the defence force he was traveling to Ukraine or sought permission to do so, was killed there last August, after enlisting as a foreign fighter while on leave without pay.

Aid worker Andrew Bagshaw – a dual British-New Zealand citizen who lived in Christchurch – died in January during a humanitarian mission.

Japanese prime minister to meet with Zelenskiy in Kyiv

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida is en route to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed Kishida riding a train from Poland heading to Kyiv early Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that Kishida’s surprise trip to Ukraine comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) for talks in Kyiv today.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) for talks in Kyiv today. Photograph: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said in announcing his trip, Kishida will show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskiy’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7 during his visit to Ukraine.

At the talks, Kishida will show his “absolute rejection to Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force, and to affirm his commitment to defend the rules-based international order,” the ministry’s statement said.

China state media coverage praise strong relationship with Russia

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

China’s state media has extensively and positively covered the Xi Putin meeting.

Most coverage has focused on Xi’s comments and talking about how strong the relationship is. None of the pieces mentioned the recent ICC arrest warrant for Putin over alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.

China Daily reported Xi saying:

The two sides have set a fine example for developing a new model of major country relations featuring mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.

Official news agency Xinhua said exchanges between the two leaders were “the compass and anchor of China-Russia relations”, which were “brimming with new dynamism and vitality” under the guidance of Xi and Putin. Multiple reports plastered the masthead’s online front, and a separate page dedicated to the visit.

The Global Times’s news report noted the “high standard welcoming ceremony” arranged by the Russians as an expression of “warm hospitality”.

It cited experts from both countries saying the visit was both symbolic and globally significant, “as it will not only greatly promote the development of bilateral ties, but also bring hope and confidence for a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis”.

The tabloid’s reporters also vox-popped Russians on the Moscow streets, the article said, finding that many considered China to be Russia’s “good friend and neighbour”.

In an accompanying editorial, the Global Times said the visit “demonstrates a right path of state-to-state interactions”.

We have every reason to believe that this visit will further elevate the China-Russia relations which are already at historical high. It will not only bring tangible benefits to the two peoples but also to promoting peace and development for the region and the world, as determined by the nature of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation for a new era.

The Global Times was also careful to characterise the war as a “crisis”, in which Ukraine was “directly fighting with Russia”. It pushed China’s 12 point peace plan, and cited analysts to promote the country’s ability to be a mediator rather than the US which had “lost” a position of neutrality and justice.

Russian cruise missiles destroyed in Crimea blast, Ukraine says

Ukraine’s defence ministry has said an explosion in the Crimean city of Dzhankoi destroyed Russian cruise missiles intended for use by Moscow’s Black Sea fleet.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, circulated footage he said reportedly showed the train station area in the city. The footage showed a loud single fiery blast followed by a plume of smoke in the night sky. It was not possible to verify his claim.

Russian cruise missiles “Kalibr NK” were destroyed in Dzhankoi, Crimea, during their transportation by rail – @DI_Ukraine

It is reported that this video is from Dzhankoi. The voice says it’s the train station area.

— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) March 20, 2023

The ministry’s main intelligence directorate said on Monday:

An explosion in Dzhankoi city in the north of temporarily occupied Crimea destroyed Russian Kalibr-KN cruise missiles as they were being transported by rail.”

It did not claim responsibility.

It said the missiles, designed to be launched from surface ships of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, had an operational range of more than 2,500km (1,550 miles) on land and 375km at sea.

Read more here:

Welcome and summary

Hello and welcome back to our continuing live coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine. My name is Natasha May and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next while.

Our top story this morning: Russian cruise missiles intended for use by Moscow’s Black Sea fleet have been destroyed in an explosion in the city of Dzhankoi in the north of the Crimean peninsula, Ukraine’s defence ministry has said.

The explosion comes in the midst of the Chinese President’s three day visit to Moscow. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are set to hold formal negotiations today after their informal talks Monday left with the pair calling each other “dear friend.”

Xi told Putin Monday that China is ready to “continue to play a constructive role in promoting the political settlement” of the war, according to official Chinese agency Xinhua.

Despite the Xi attempting to play the peacemaker, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been critical of the visit, which he says “suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the president accountable for the atrocities committed to Ukraine.”

We’ll have more on these stories shortly. In the meantime here are the other key recent developments:

  • Russia plans to hold an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council in early April on what it says is “the real situation” of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, the Associated Press is reporting. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes related to the children’s abduction but Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told a news conference Monday the issue was “totally overblown.”

  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, broadcaster NHK has reported. Kishida has already left India and is on his way to Ukraine, according to unnamed sources cited in the report.

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, has written to Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, to warn that the Ukrainian army is planning an imminent offensive aimed at cutting off his forces from the main body of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. In the letter published by his press service, Prigozhin said the “large-scale attack” was planned for late March or the start of April. Separately, Prigozhin also intensified his attack on Shoigu, calling the minister’s son-in-law a “scumbag blogger”.

  • The prosecutor for the ICC has said the world needs to “have the stamina” to enforce international law by trying those accused of war crimes in Ukraine, four days after the court took action against Vladimir Putin. Karim Khan also challenged the Kremlin to allow Ukrainian children abducted to Russia to return home, after his court issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, on the grounds that they had overseen the forcible transfer of thousands of children.

  • EU ministers have reached a deal to supply Ukraine with 1m rounds of shells to bolster its defences against Russia’s invasion. EU foreign and defence ministers are still fine-tuning a €1bn plan for the joint procurement of ammunition by the Brussels-based European Defence Agency. Such an agreement would be a significant moment for the EU, which has limited experience of the joint purchase of military supplies. So far, about 15 countries are expected to take part in the voluntary initiative.

  • The US will send Ukraine $350m in weapons and equipment, Blinken has announced. The latest aid package includes a large amount of various types of ammunition, such as rockets for the high-mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars), the US secretary of state said in a statement.

  • Norway has delivered eight Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, a spokesperson for its armed forces has said. Norway, which shares a border with Russia in the Arctic, said it would also send four special-purpose tanks from its armoured engineering and bridge layer category, the exact selection depending on what Ukraine needs the most.